Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Come on MPs. Get off your butts! -- Andrew Loh

This is another article by TOC writer, Andrew Loh on the homeless at Sembawang Park.

Andrew has revealed that MCYS has acted to get the pregnant woman under a roof since TOC writers and social activists visited the Sembawang Park campsite. However, the main issue of housing is yet to be resolved.

I am going to keep the pressure on the Minister of National Development high up as long as his ministry cannot provide a solution to these people as well as other homeless people camping around Singapore in tents. I am contemplating to make a video of these campers and keep campaigning for BASIC HOUSING RIGHTS for Singaporeans.

Let's see whether Mr. Mah Bow Tan's ministry does anything about this issue.

Goh Meng Seng

After the General Elections in 2006, the newly-formed P65 Members of Parliament from the People’s Action Party (PAP) were the speakers at a public forum. It was organized by the PAP’s Youth Wing. There were three MPs there – namely Teo Ser Luck, Zaqy Mohamad and Michael Palmer, all freshly-minted young MPs.

During the Q&A, I asked about the poor in Singapore and how the grassroots were not doing enough to help them. I sarcastically remarked that these organizations were more interested in karaoke-ing than in helping the poor. I mentioned karaoke because there were news reports at that time about the Community Clubs having these sessions which were loud enough to bother residents. Why were the organizations spending precious resources in singing? Why were these not used to help the poor instead?

MP Michael Palmer took issue with what what I said and rebutted my remarks. No surprise there, of course. While the grassroots are independent of any political parties (well, they’re meant to be anyway), PAP MPs, who’re appointed as grassroots “advisers”, are expected to defend these organizations.

Yet, one wonders what these very same MPs, such as Michael Palmer, would say if he visited Sembawang Park. There, families of all types are camping out not because they love the ourdoors but because they have nowhere else to go. Their stories vary – from being kicked out by relatives whom they had disputes with, to defaulting on their HDB or bank mortgage loans. And they are not an overnight phenomena. In fact, many of them have been camping out in tents there for months.

Children, infants, teenagers, braving the rain and the sun, the unpredictable weather.

Many have applied to the HDB for rental flats but have been rejected, for various reasons. In the end, this dogged adherence to HDB rules by civil servants have resulted in a ridiculous situation where even a seven-months pregnant woman has to endure camping out at Sembawang Park.

“We’re not looking for pity,” she tells me. “We only want a roof over our heads for our children,” she confides as her eyes well up and tears start to fall. Her other two children runs around, oblivious to the predicament their parents are going through. She had skipped her doctor’s appointment because she says her husband needs the money to go to work. She does not know how she us going to afford the hospital bill when she finally has to deliver her third child.

Minister for National Development, Mr Mah Bow Tan, was kind of proud to announce recently that two blocks of flats in Toa Payoh would be reserved for another group of people who would otherwise be homeless as well – the foreign workers.

It makes one wonder where the minister’s priorities are and if he is aware that there are homeless Singaporeans struggling to keep their heads above water, and their sanity at the same time.

The situation in Sembawang Park – where as many as 15 families are camped out – has been so for months, as I previously mentioned. One would therefore have to wonder several things:

1. What has the MP there done about it? Why, apparently, has he not done anything?

2. What have the grassroots organizations there been doing? Surely, they’re aware of the situation. I’ve seen them, the GROs, hold big events there on weekends, some involving as many as a thousand people.

3. What about the MCYS? Surely, being the ministry in charge of helping the less fortunate, it must have known about the situation for a while?

It is ridiculous, to me, that so many families should endure living in such a way at the park when they could easily be helped. For example, when we highlighted the plight of the pregnant lady, officers from the MCYS immediately put her up at a shelter and promised to expedite her request for a rental flat.

Why did it take our intervention before the ministry took action? Was it because they were afraid that The Online Citizen would expose the situation?

Yet, Sembawang Park is not the only park where the homeless camp out. We understand there are similar homeless people at East Coast Park, Serangoon Park and elsewhere.

If we can build dormitories for foreign workers, or reserve blocks of flats for them to stay, why can’t we do the same for homeless Singaporeans?

With property prices reaching ridiculous heights and the cost of living not letting up, it is no wonder that we are seeing more homeless Singaporeans.

What would be even more sad is if the government retracked the rules and disallowed camping at the parks – just as it disallowed begging in S’pore in the 80s. Perhaps this will then allow it to boast that there are no poor or homeless people in Singapore. I would not put it beyond the government to change the rules. It has already been changed once – from unlimited camping periods to the present rule which states that one can only camp at a designated area in a park for a maximum of 8 days each month. Once your 8 days are up, you'd be asked to leave - or pay a S$200 fine, which some homeless people, poor as they are, were told to when they "over-stayed".

One only hopes that the government will do what is more substantive – to find long term housing for those who can no longer afford public housing – rather than be more concerned about superficialities such as presenting an impression or image to the world that Singapore is so clean and prosperous that even the genuine poor and homeless are not seen in public.

For now, my advice to those in government or the grassroots organisations and the MPS is this : Get off your butt and get down to Sembawang Park! No Singaporean should live like this!

And yes, you might wanna give the karaoke-ing a rest too!


Anonymous said...

If you really want to help, you must keep track of these people. Government departments are experts at sweeping the problem away.

Once, I complained to Town Council about my neighbour ill treating their cats by letting them roam around the neighbourhood hungry. I hope that they can force my neighbours to keep their pets indoors as Town Council takes care of common area. Their response was that if these cats are roaming, then they are strays and will get pest controllers to cull them. Is there such logic? Obviously they hope I will stop my feedback by threatening to cull the cats.

Same thing here, they might ask park rangers or police to threaten these homeless with fines or arrests so that they will disappear voluntarily. Problem solved. Social workers are not all selfless people, to some it is just a job.

cy said...

Mr Goh, you should point this out during rallies and see how PAP reacts. No need to give them "face" this time.

disadvantaged ppl are always ignored by 官僚主义, they find them an irritant. e.g. CDC staff who serve unemployed ppl

Anonymous said...

No lah. Those camping in the parks are not exactly homeless people. I am 1 of them. Most of us go there to enjoy the sea breeze, which we do not have at home. With a small 2-men tent, some fishing gears and bait, an old army messtin, and a packet of Maggie noddles, I was able to enjoy what I did 40+ years ago as a kid outside the Changi cargo complex. It's a lot cheaper than going to france for cooking lessons. And not many people can afford that.
Poor we may be, but certainly not pathetic or homeless.
An interesting point of bservation is that I'm noticing more Singaporean Chinese families embarking on this form of "affordable" holiday". For those interested in enjoying some simple things in life, there is also Sembawang park (end of Sembawang road) and Kranji Dam. Semb Pk has flower crabs and
Krangi Dam can catch good size toman to put into noodles. Try spotting the chap in a red Pei Hwa school baseball cap with 2 fishing rods. I'm there every fortnight. dt