GET TO KNOW HOMELESSNESS
5 Reasons for Homelessness in Singapore
A series by New Hope Community Services | Published: 12 Apr 2022
The reasons behind homelessness and the homeless themselves are still painfully misunderstood today. So how does a person find themselves out on the streets without a place to call home? What really causes homelessness?
Background Photo: A Rough Sleeper getting some rest in Singapore (Photos by New Hope Community Services)
Becoming Homeless: 5 Reasons for Homelessness in Singapore
In his opening address at the Homelessness Learning Forum 2021, Pastor Andrew Khoo, CEO & Founder of New Hope Community Services, shared an encounter he had with someone who did not know that there were homeless people in Singapore. Expressing shock, the person then responded that homelessness happens because of laziness — being homeless was on them; their own fault.
Unfortunately, this is a casual narrative that some of us may have. But the truth is, people become homeless for a lot of different reasons. It is too simplistic to suggest that homelessness is either entirely a personal issue or a problem with government policies. Understanding the causes of homelessness is not an exercise of pointing out whose fault it is. Rather, as we list out 5 common causes of homelessness in Singapore, we hope to give you a better perception of the realities that these people face.
Photo by New Hope Community Services
Unemployment, Irregular Work, Low Wages
In the 2019 survey on street homelessness in Singapore (Ng, 2019), the most frequently cited reason by rough sleepers for why they were homeless was unemployment, irregular work and low wages.
While more than half of rough sleepers were employed, most held roles in jobs that are among the lowest paid in Singapore, such as cleaners or security personnel. The median income for those who were paid monthly was $1,400. In contrast, the median gross monthly work income of residents in Singapore in 2019 was $4,563 (Ministry of Manpower, 2022).
Not all employed rough sleepers work full-time. Their number of working days may vary from week to week, which affects their wages. For some, their weekly income could fall as low as $20 (Ng, 2019).
It is well-established that poverty and homelessness are closely associated. Low income has a direct impact on one’s ability to access stable housing, increasing the risk of homelessness, which in turn makes it difficult for one to exit poverty (Ng, 2019).
From disagreements with family members to tension between co-tenants, relational conflict plays a big role in the comfort and safety of one’s environment. It was also the second most cited reason for homelessness by surveyed rough sleepers (Ng, 2019).
Almost 40% of rough sleepers surveyed in the 2019 street count had housing to their names. However, family conflict or problems getting along with co-tenants were frequently mentioned as reasons for not wanting to sleep in their own houses. In the face of endless sharp words or unsavoury actions, the stillness a neighbourhood park offers can suddenly look like an enticing escape and far better choice.
Abraham Yeo, founder of the Homeless Hearts of Singapore, once said: “People don’t become homeless because they run out of resources. They become homeless because they run out of relationships.”
As explored in reason #1, having low income makes it difficult for people to access stable housing. This is particularly so when cheap, affordable housing is undersupplied or difficult to access (Ng, 2019). For example, renting a 3-room HDB flat on the open market could cost you $2,000 a month (Housing & Development Board, 2022).
For low-income earners, it takes time to build up savings. As such, a sudden loss of income could mean defaulting on rent or mortgage payments. Unexpected crisis such as retrenchment or sudden illness hits them harder than those on comfortable incomes.
HDB’s Public Rental Scheme does exist as a means of last resort for low-income households. However, a host of eligibility criteria means that it is not easily accessible for individuals or families that are imminently facing homelessness. Some also face a long wait time before being able to move in to a public rental flat.
Effects of Ill Health
Dealing with chronic health issues can result in difficulty finding and sustaining employment. High blood pressure, diabetes and heart conditions were among the reported health issues of surveyed rough sleepers (Ng, 2019). In addition to physical ailments, some also struggle with their mental health, which may affect their relationships with the people they work – or even live – with.
Trying to keep in good health can also take a toll on a person’s finances and housing. As an attempt to identify an unknown illness, Mr. Umar underwent multiple medical tests and an 8-month long stay in the hospital. This eventually drained our former shelter resident’s MediSave and savings, which led to him becoming homeless.
Covid-19 Border Restrictions
When the borders were closed, many Malaysians, Indonesians and even some Singaporeans found themselves unable to make the daily commute between Singapore, where they work and their homes in Johor Bahru and Batam. While measures have eased, travelling back remains risky due to the volatility of the pandemic situation. At the time of writing, the land border between Malaysia and Singapore has been reopened on 1 April 2022.
Despite efforts to shelter foreign workers in Singapore — employers are obliged to ensure that their foreign employees have a place to stay while in Singapore — there are some, whether by choice or circumstance, who are still rough sleeping.
Though we’ve only listed five reasons here, the actual causes of homelessness are much more complex. It’s likely that several of these factors occurred together, causing a person to be trapped in a much wider web of troubling circumstances that led to homelessness.
As you read through the reasons above, you might have noticed that some of them could just as easily strike us one day without warning, out of our control. Many of the reasons have also been exacerbated due to the pandemic.
Understanding the causes of homelessness can be a revealing reflection of the existing gaps in our society. And even more so, it should be an exciting starting point for us to do something about it. When we find out where the darkness is, that’s when we can bring the light of hope in.
To find out more about homelessness, please read the rest of our series:
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