In super-wealthy Singapore, over 1,000 homeless people sleep on streets

(NST) – About 1,000 people sleep rough on the streets of Singapore, the first-ever academic study measuring the scale of homelessness here has found.

They are mostly older men, and 31 per cent of the sample interviewed – which would translate to more than 300 people – said they have been homeless for at least six years, according to the study released on Nov 8.

At the time they were interviewed, which was after 11.30pm, one in four had eaten only one meal or none at all for the whole day.

The in-depth study, involving hundreds of volunteer field workers, was led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The main reason for sleeping rough was unemployment, irregular hours or low pay – cited by 47 per cent of those interviewed. The other main reasons for homelessness were: Family relationship problems and lack of access to housing services.

The researchers also found that many homeless people defy stereotypes: They can be well-dressed and well-groomed, most hold down jobs albeit low-paying ones, and in some cases, they even own residential property.

Nearly one in 10 of the people, or 9 per cent, was observed to have health issues including visible injuries and ailments, physical disability, a frail appearance or possible mental health conditions.

How the study was done

A total of 480 volunteer field workers including representatives from more than 20 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of the public combed through some 12,000 blocks of residential flats and other public and commercial spaces such as parks and hawker centres over three months from April to June this year. In July, they combed the streets again and conducted interviews with 88 homeless individuals for a more in-depth study.

The study counted people as homeless if they were in public spaces after 11.30pm lying down to sleep, with some form of bedding – cardboard, floor covering, loose furniture, pillow or blanket – or with a lot of belongings. They were still considered as homeless even if they had residential property in their name.

The field workers counted 1,050 homeless people. One in four was found in the downtown core of Singapore, also known as the Central Business District area, making it the district with the highest number of homeless individuals here.

Other areas with high numbers include Bedok, Kallang, Tiong Bahru, Ang Mo Kio, Jurong West, Toa Payoh and Yishun. At least 40 homeless people were identified in these districts.