ComLink – Government and partners coming together to support families

Thomas (not his real name) has been battling with a slew of medical issues, such as diabetes, gout, high blood cholesterol and sleep apnea.

In March 2019, the father of three was dealt another blow – he lost his job at a laundry delivery business because his employer felt he was taking sick leave too often. His wife, a cashier, ended up as the family’s sole breadwinner, bringing home just over S$1,500 a month.

This meant that the family of five, who has been living in a two-room rental flat in Marsiling for the past five years, had to shelve their dreams of buying a new home.

With the launch of Community Link (ComLink), more help is now on the way to Thomas and his family.

ComLink was introduced by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of National Development to provide proactive, collaborative and community-driven support to families in need, and to empower them to lead better lives. There are various programmes under ComLink, which are run by different community and corporate partners and tailored to the needs of the local community. For example, reading and numeracy programmes for young children, sports activities for students, Community Scouting for youths, as well as skills upgrading and job matching services for residents.

These programmes were curated based on suggestions by residents at several focus group discussions. Thomas was one of the participants in a 2019 discussion on homeownership. Held in Marsiling, the discussion was conducted by National University of Singapore undergraduates from the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Centre, together with the Social Service Office (SSO) @ Woodlands, Housing and Development Board (HDB) and Care Corner Family Service Centre (Woodlands) who also reached out to residents from rental flats to find out and address their needs.

Some of the fellow residents in Marsiling whom Thomas met struggled with bankruptcy while others had to sell their flats as part of divorce settlements. “Many have their own family problems. Each had their stories to share and we got to know one another better,” he says.

He was pleased that the small group format of the discussion facilitated personal sharing. “In a small group, we could talk about whatever we wanted and get advice on what to do. It can be very hard to talk if the group is too big.”

One of the major issues raised by participants in that discussion was employment. As Thomas experienced firsthand, a family’s plan for a brighter future can be quickly derailed with the loss of a job.  After hearing the residents’ struggles with this issue, SSO @ Woodlands worked with employment-related agencies like FastJobs and Workforce Singapore to develop targeted job programmes for Marsiling residents.

Another important point that emerged during the discussion was the need for easy access to assistance. Thomas shared that it could be confusing to navigate the services offered by different agencies. Thanks to the initiatives by Marsiling ComLink in bringing together multiple partners to address residents’ needs, he is now more aware of where he can seek financial assistance, what kind of HDB loans are available and how he can seek help from other community partners and Members of Parliament.

Recognising the aspirations of residents to own their own homes, the SSO @ Woodlands will be working closely with HDB’s Home ownership Support Team (HST) to help families on their journeys towards buying a flat.

HST was launched in 2019 to provide dedicated and more personalised services for rental households who are ready for homeownership. HST guides these households, from application to key collection, and will be a consistent point of contact to address all HDB-related issues.

Besides MSF, HST also works with other social service agencies and partners, such as the Ministry of Manpower, Family Service Centres (FSCs), and The Institute of Financial Literacy to provide holistic support for rental tenants along their home ownership journeys.

Two of Thomas’ children, aged 14 and 12, attended a trial session on basic money management at the new newly launched ComLink programme space in Marsiling. They shared that the session was both fun and useful.  They are eager to participate in other ComLink programmes where they can get to know their neighbours better. With the support provided through ComLink, Thomas is actively searching for a job with the goal of stabilising his family’s finances and working towards the family’s dream of home ownership again.