A community effort to help the homeless and rough sleepers

When the Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) started their first night mission to help the homeless and rough sleepers about five and a half years ago, the 16 buns and drinks their volunteers bought for distribution were all snapped up in a short while.

Today, CWS volunteers run Night Missions twice a week, distributing on average 120 meals each night, according to its CEO Mr James Chew.

While there may be a perception that the homeless and rough sleepers are lazy, Mr Chew shared how he encountered a man who had a job but was sleeping in the open so that he could give the money he saved on rent to his two teenage children.

“He has been separated from his wife and his children have no idea that he’s homeless,” said Mr Chew.

To better support the homeless and the rough sleepers, CWS worked with the churches to open their premises at night to provide what is now termed “Safe-Sound-Sleeping Places” for the homeless and rough sleepers to have a hot meal and good night’s rest.

CWS, along with New Hope Community Services (NHCS) and Homeless Hearts of Singapore (HHOS), was among 15 community partners feted for their tireless work on the ground when they received the Community Cares Award at the MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards 2019 on 1 st November. The Award recognises individuals, community and corporate partners who drive social change passionately, and who strive to do good for society and, in so doing, inspire those around them.

These three organisations are also part of the 26 that have come together under the PEERS (Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers) Network to pool expertise and resources to better help the homeless and rough sleepers.

Like CWS, the efforts of NHCS and HHOS in helping the homeless and rough sleepers were modest at the beginning.

NHCS, led by Pastor Andrew Khoo, started its operations 16 years ago as a shelter for men in challenging circumstances, such as ex-offenders looking to re-enter society. The organisation’s Shelter for Men-in-Crisis has since been renamed Transit Point.

As part of its partnership with the PEERS Network, the NHCS operates a safe-sound-sleeping place at its Transitional Shelter. Social workers then follow up with those who are ready to accept referral to shelters and other assistance the next day.

Pastor Khoo said: “Homeless people have faced very challenging life circumstances that have led them to feel helpless over a long period of time.

“They may not have the resources or support network to negotiate these circumstances.”

Similarly, the HHOS started as a four-man team in 2014 and has since expanded to about 25 committed volunteers today. Founded by Mr Abraham Yeo, the organisation helps homeless people re-integrate into society by befriending them, through avenues such as festival and birthday celebrations. It also encourages the public to start homeless befriending groups in their own neighbourhoods.

Mr Yeo says the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping receives more publicity in the media today than in the past, with groups like the PEERS Network helping them. “Five years ago it was almost impossible to find groups that did homeless outreaches in Singapore. There was also scant information and statistics available on the internet regarding homelessness.”

Understandably, befriending the homeless and rough sleepers has its challenges, such as gaining their trust. Mr Chew said: “Sometimes, you will find out a few months later that some of them did not tell you their real names. There’s always the fear that the police will come and ask for their identity cards or put them in a home.”

These organisations have persevered despite the challenges and even increased their outreach to the homeless and rough sleepers. Aiding this effort, MSF is working with the PEERS Network to build an interim shelter that would provide temporary accommodation for the homeless and rough sleepers before they move to long-term housing.

With the involvement of HDB in the PEERS Network, social workers are able to speed up the process of matching homeless individuals and rough sleepers to a suitable flat.

Pastor Khoo says his team is “especially delighted” when clients move into a HDB rental flat or purchase their own flat. “The joy and excitement you see on their faces is invaluable.”

He urged Singaporeans to volunteer their time and help build a more inclusive society, added: “Be a befriender. So our homeless friends will not be invisible but have a friend.”

About the PEERS Network
MSF works closely with social service agencies and community groups to support ground-up initiatives. Since late-2017, we have stepped up our partnerships with different voluntary community groups, many of which are at the forefront of engaging, befriending, and looking out for the well-being of rough sleepers. Collectively, we call this partnership the PEERS (Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers) Network. The name PEERS was coined by one of our community partners.

MSF has joined our partners’ regular outreach walks, helped to move willing rough sleepers into “Safe Sound Sleeping Places”, and brought agencies such as the HDB, NParks, Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) and Family Service Centres (FSCs) together to work on solving rough sleepers’ longer-term issues. While deepening the partnerships within PEERS Network, MSF is also continually looking out for new partners to join the PEERS Network. MSF has worked with owners of community premises to set up Safe Sound Sleeping Places and community groups to start befriending in more areas. Some of our other PEERS partners are Paya Lebar Methodist Church, Masjid Sultan and Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.