Singapore is extremely wealthy. Almost 200,000 of the 5.6 million people living there are millionaires. However, this statistic — and the city state’s shining reputation — could also be misleading. The stories of those who suffer financially are often neglected, including a growing problem with homelessness.
A new study by the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, titled Homeless In Singapore: Results From A Nationwide Street Count, released last week found that every night, about 921 to 1,050 people sleep in public areas and open lobbies across Singapore.
Assistant professor Ng Kok Hoe led the study, with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers, social workers, and NGOs who conducted fieldwork over three months.
The findings, which were presented at a public seminar on Friday, November 8, show that most were found sleeping in Singapore's downtown area.
Researchers interviewed 88 people and found that four in 10 of them were unemployed. Of the remaining six, many had jobs in cleaning, security, retail, and other casual jobs.
Almost half of the respondents said that unemployment, low wages, or irregular hours were the reasons they slept outdoors. Other reasons include their inability to afford housing, the desire to be close to their workplace, and disputes with their family or housemates.
Sixty percent of those surveyed were in their 50s or 60s, while men make up 87 percent of those who sleep rough on the island.
Of the approximately 1,000 who spend the night outside, researchers found that 191 stay awake. Most sleep in void decks of public housing blocks or around commercial buildings.
“I was struck by how widespread homelessness is geographically, and how long it lasts for many homeless persons, despite them being in work,” said Ng.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development issued a response to the findings, saying: “Homelessness is a complex issue that often involves multiple underlying social issues.”
“We engage and refer them to shelters and help agencies, such as social service offices and family service centres, to address their longer-term issues,” it added.
In the paper, Ng suggests having more locations that offer support to homeless people, and for shelters — which are known to impose tight restrictions on people who live in them — to have more flexible rules.