Helping The Lower-Income And Vulnerable In Unexpected Places

How far will you go to assist rough sleepers? Ms Daphne Gan from the Social Service Office @ Boon Lay, Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), shares her experience of working with community partners to help a couple find safe shelter.
Helping the lower-income and vulnerable usually takes place at rather unconventional locations.

Supporting those in need usually calls for close collaboration between officers across different agencies.

Sometimes, such collaborations take place at rather unconventional locations, as Ms Daphne Gan from Social Service Office (SSO) @ Boon Lay found out.

To support individuals with financial needs, SSO officers often conduct home visits to better understand their situation and needs. However, Daphne once found herself not at a housing estate, but a cemetery.

“Home visits are usually conducted when clients are uncontactable but having to visit a cemetery was a first,” says Daphne.

She was working with social worker Nur Khairunnisa Diyana Abdul Hamed from the Thye Hua Kwan Family Service Centre @ Jurong on a case referred to them by a local Member of Parliament.

The couple in need, Mr A and Mdm B, worked at a cemetery to exhume graves in the day and was sleeping rough there at night. Rough sleeping exposed the couple to various risks, so arrangements had to be swiftly made to locate them.

Despite not knowing the couple’s exact whereabouts in the cemetery, Daphne and Diyana were not deterred. Together, they spent almost three hours tirelessly searching through the vast grounds of the cemetery to locate the couple.

If you’re facing financial or housing difficulties, or know someone who needs help:

  • Visit the nearest Social Service Office or Family Service Centre to seek assistance
  • Call the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000

With the help of Daphne’s supervisor who drove them around the cemetery, chats with the staff at the cemetery, and directions given by other exhumation workers, they found the couple as evening approached.

“It was definitely an experience, walking through partially exhumed graves and placing our trust in the other exhumation workers to find the couple,” says Daphne.

Establishing Trust

Before meeting the couple, Daphne and Diyana had tried to contact them through phone calls and messages. But the couple was frequently uncontactable. The social workers then decided to meet the couple at the cemetery to make them feel more comfortable.

“Rather than asking them to come to visit our office, meeting the couple in a place more familiar to them helped a little to reduce the power imbalance typically seen in the helping relationship,” Daphne explained.

After a two-hour conversation at the cemetery, Daphne and Diyana identified the couple’s needs and strengths (e.g. being resourceful), and explained the various forms of assistance available to them, such as a rental flat. 

However, persuading Mr A and Mdm B to accept the assistance took more than just words of reassurance. The couple, being unofficially married and lacking physical supporting documents, was worried that applying for government assistance would be cumbersome and inconvenient.

“As such, it was essential that we gained their trust and address any misunderstandings before they would be more willing to work with us and consider our suggestions,” says Daphne.

Daphne and Diyana persevered in engaging the couple, and eventually, Mr A and Mdm B were touched by their sincerity. The couple shared more about their situation and were willing to accept the assistance for safe housing. 

“It’s crucial that the couple did not feel judged but instead recognised our genuine intentions of wanting to understand their concerns and work out realistic solutions to address their specific circumstances.”

Daphne and Diyana subsequently helped the couple to complete an application for a rental flat at the Housing & Development Board (HDB) Hub – a major step in helping them put a roof over their heads.

Tips on Assisting Those in Need:

  • Do not judge. Be patient and sincere in understanding their circumstances.
  • Break down their goals (e.g., applying for a rental flat) into smaller, actionable steps.
  • Meet them in a place they are familiar with to reduce feelings of a power imbalance.

Working Across Agencies

Lower-income and vulnerable individuals often face complex challenges and require support from multiple government agencies and community organisations.

Strong partnerships and collaboration across agencies are required to render comprehensive, convenient and coordinated support to the individual or family.

In the case of Mr A and Mdm B a close collaboration with HDB was pivotal. Given the urgency of this case, the SSO, HDB and FSC worked closely to expedite the application process.

This open communication across agencies is key to ensuring progress.

This prompt assistance was made possible by the three agencies establishing a common understanding of expectations and goals early, coordinating action plans, and sharing documents and case updates on the back-end to minimise the administrative burden on the couple.

Daphne says: “My HDB counterpart Jeffrey Ee [from the Rental Housing Department] was always responsive and willing to share updates regarding the couples’ rental flat application. This open communication across agencies is key to ensuring progress.

“Knowing where each agency stands and being honest in informing one another of our limitations and flexibility helps foster a stronger working relationship.”

Working With the Community to Help the Vulnerable

The Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network consists of various groups brought together by the MSF to be partners in supporting rough sleepers and homeless persons.

  • Who: Ground-up community groups, social service agencies and government agencies.
  • What it does: Proactively identifies, befriends and reaches out to rough sleepers. Several Network’s partners also set up Safe, Sound, Sleeping Places (S3Ps) to provide rough sleepers with temporary housing.
  • When: Befriending groups conduct outreach sessions in different parts of Singapore, usually held after 9pm.

Since April 2020, more than 900 homeless people have been supported by the PEERS Network, social service agencies, community partners and the MSF.

To volunteer with a befriending group of the PEERS Network, apply here

To provide spaces as S3Ps, organisations may write to the PEERS Office at

    Sep 22, 2021
    Kate Ling
    Siti Maziah Masramli
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