The first nationwide study on the scale of homelessness in Singapore, conducted by a research team from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School) at NUS, has revealed that there are between 921 and 1,050 homeless people on Singapore’s streets.
While homelessness occurred in most parts of Singapore, a large majority of the homeless people were older Chinese men, and more instances of homelessness were observed in larger and older estates, as well as in estates with more rental flats.
The most common locations with homeless people were public housing void decks and commercial buildings. Their appearances, possessions and environment did not fit simple stereotypes — they could be well-dressed and well-groomed, hold down jobs and could own residential property.
The study also found that homeless persons may continue to maintain some connections to their communities and social networks, and help-seeking and encounters with law enforcement agencies were frequent.
Led by LKY School Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe, the study investigated factors including the geographical distribution of homelessness, the characteristics of homeless people and the reasons for their homelessness.
“Knowing the number of homeless people and where they may be found allows services to be designed and organised in a systematic way. It also sheds light on the depth of housing insecurity and extent of social exclusion in society,” said Asst Prof Ng in the study, released on 8 November.
How the study was done
The results were determined through two different count methods — a cumulative count and a single night count. The cumulative count took place over three months in 2019, and saw volunteers and researchers cover all possible sites where homeless people might reside.
The single night count took place in July 2019 and involved deploying all fieldworkers across the country on the same night to do observations, as well as conduct interviews.
As the study is concerned with street homelessness, both count methods included anyone who was asleep or going to sleep in public spaces. This followed established definitions of rough sleeping.
In total, some 480 fieldworkers took part in the two counts. These included representatives from more than 20 non-governmental organisations and many individual members of the public.
Reasons for homelessness
Through interviews with some of the homeless people, the team also found out that most of them were Singapore citizens, and had low education. The main reasons for homelessness were economic, family, housing-related and health problems. In addition, homelessness was often chronic — lasting six years or more — irregular work and low pay were common, and poor health and malnutrition were prevalent.
Only six in 10 of the interviewees were in work, with the most common occupations being cleaning, odd jobs, security, and retail. The study noted that these are “among the lowest-paying occupations in Singapore”. Of those who receive monthly pay cheques, the median salary was $1,400 per month — far lower than the national median salary of $3,467 in 2018.
Asst Prof Ng said that street counts such as this study should be conducted every few years to provide timely guidance for policy and service planning.
“Future research can extend into areas beyond the scope of this study, such as the sheltered homeless population and people living in inadequate housing; spatial changes in homelessness over time; and the impact of demographic changes, economic conditions, housing policies, and service capacities on homelessness,” he added.