By Finder Blogger: Andrea McKenna
As I was walking through Chinatown last week, I passed a man. His shirt was dirty. He smelled bad. He looked sick and was maybe developmentally challenged. He seemingly carried all his possessions in two plastic bags.
Yes, there are homeless people even in prosperous Singapore.
As he passed I thought about the $50 bill I had in my wallet that I was saving for milk, lunch or a taxi.
After a few seconds, I turned around to go give it to him but he was gone.
The invisible are pretty good at remaining invisible. But the reality is that homeless people are still there and they need help.
There are about 900 individuals who live on the streets in Singapore, according to a Channel News Asia report from 2016.
In other countries, such as the United States, many homeless are addicts and/or mentally ill. They can’t or won’t get help because their behaviors are so unpredictable.
Here in Singapore, some are homeless by choice because, though they may have relatives and homes, they have been kicked out or stay away due to social and family difficulties.
I knew of a very nice, friendly gentleman living in the recreation area of a nearby HDB. Every few months the police clear him out, and every few months he returns.
He's pretty jovial and enjoys a beer now and then. He told my helper he didn’t get along with his sister so he left. He was very nice to our children and always said hello to my husband when he was with us. “You have a nice family,” he said.
We, too, made an effort to be extra nice to him because many homeless people lose dignity from being treated as invisible, forgotten humans.
A few years ago when I was doing yoga training on Arab Street, there was a man who was a dwarf who apparently lived on the street there. He slept on two chairs and I often saw him searching for food as I made my early-morning sojourn into the yoga studio.
I did not know how to help, and I still think of him and wonder what happened to him.
There are also a lot of homeless people who live in tents in East Coast Park. They have to dodge park officials and police who can charge fine of up to $2,000 for not having a permit to camp there.
Who would choose this? And why does it happen?
These are questions the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) grapples with every day.
They try to create safety nets where they can help people before this happens. Family and social service centers also help out people who are displaced for a variety of reasons. MSF funds these organizations such as New Hope Community Services and the Lakeside Families in Transition shelter.
So what can you do?
Donate to these organizations. Donate food. Donate goods like shampoo and toothbrushes. You can also refer people to social service or family service centers.
Most importantly, be kind. Remember these people are human and need social contact to feel valued. Do not let them continue to be invisible.
About Andrea McKenna
Andrea McKenna Brankin is journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.