Low Thia Khiang urges Govt to “seriously look” into housing options for homeless

How can we aspire to be a First World country with a world class public housing programme if we have homeless citizens camped out in public parks? The HDB’s proposition for those who are unable to purchase a HDB flat or to qualify for a HDB rental flat is to seek help for accommodation from family members. The HDB should know well that with the size of HDB flats, most families do not have a spare room to accommodate another distressed close family member’s family. The end result would be strained relationships between family members which could adversely impact the family structure as a basic unit of our society. Is the creation of more strained family relationships desirable?

This was a cut delivered in Parliament on 5 March 2010 by Workers’ Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang during the Committee of Supply debate, on the budget for the Ministry for National Development (MND).

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It was reported by the Straits Times that the number of homeless people has doubled. When I read the report, I was thinking whether this is more a social problem or a housing problem?

My own experience from Meet-the-People sessions is that it may be less a social problem and more of a housing problem. This is because while many of these cases of residents who lost their homes do involve dysfunctional families, quite a number are still financially viable and could afford to stay together as a family if they could afford the rental of a house. Many ended up without a home because of strict HDB rules on rental housing and obtaining HDB subsidised housing loans.

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Go tie yourself to a tree, judge tells homeless man

I was saddened yet at the same time angry when I read this news report:

Straits Times, Aug 18, 2009

Jailed for living in illegal tent

By Sujin Thomas

HOMELESS and unemployed, Noor Mohammad Yassin Ismail pitched a canvas tent at East Coast Park in May, 2007, and lived there for almost a month – without a lease or licence to do so.

He was discovered on June 26 of that year, after he was apprehended by park rangers.

In court on Tuesday, Noor was asked to produce his Identity Card or passport but he said that he had lost both items.

It prompted District Judge Mr Shaiffudin Saruwan to retort in jest: ‘I suggest you use a bicycle chain to tie yourself to a tree or you may lose yourself as well.’

Pleading for leniency, Noor, who is tanned and skinny, said that he seldom ate, only doing so if friends gave him food.

He added that his mother is paralysed and looked after by a younger sibling, while an elder sister does not care about him.

He was fined $800 but could not afford to pay the fine so he was jailed four days instead. He could have been fined up to $2,000.

Jailed for living in illegal tent
By Sujin Thomas
HOMELESS and unemployed, Noor Mohammad Yassin Ismail pitched a canvas tent at East Coast Park in May, 2007, and lived there for almost a month – without a lease or licence to do so.
He was discovered on June 26 of that year, after he was apprehended by park rangers.
In court on Tuesday, Noor was asked to produce his Identity Card or passport but he said that he had lost both items.
It prompted District Judge Mr Shaiffudin Saruwan to retort in jest: ‘I suggest you use a bicycle chain to tie yourself to a tree or you may lose yourself as well.’
Pleading for leniency, Noor, who is tanned and skinny, said that he seldom ate, only doing so if friends gave him food.
He added that his mother is paralysed and looked after by a younger sibling, while an elder sister does not care about him.
He was fined $800 but could not afford to pay the fine so he was jailed four days instead. He could have been fined up to $2,000.

It is bad enough that this poor (literally) man who doesn’t even have food to eat and a place to stay is jailed, but when I read what Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan said to him as he sentenced him, I was completely aghast! Does the judge have no compassion whatsoever? He jails a destitute man and then insults him.

What is my country coming to? A land where the powerful elites sneer at the weakest members of society instead of helping them?

I thank reporter Sujin Thomas for highlighting this case.