Living Without a Home

According to the most recent statistics in 2021 (Low, 2022), there are around 1130 individuals who are homeless and sleep rough on the streets. 1130 is a considerable amount of people, yet we rarely encounter homeless people in our daily lives.

Anti-homeless infrastructure

Indeed, this could be attributed to the numerous anti-homeless infrastructure we see in common public spaces. It is the subtle removal of public toilets and the addition of park sprinklers. Dividers are set up on public benches such as seating areas in the city area and bus stop benches. Such exclusionary features in public spaces may drive the homeless further into the peripherals of Singapore, where they become harder to reach by social service workers or volunteers (Ong, 2020). 

Despite unfriendly infrastructure to the homeless, the state and civil society reach out to the homeless via numerous methods. One of which is through homeless shelters. 

Safe Sound Sleeping Places (S3Ps) 

S3Ps is a ground-up initiative providing homeless shelters for the homeless in Singapore to find refuge, befriend social service workers and gain access to meals. Of the 270 people who applied in 2021, about 61% were successful (Low, 2022).

But what about the remaining 39%? According to Low (2022), “the remaining applicants were rejected as they had mental health, behavioral or addiction issues, or had care needs that require close supervision.”. Unfortunately, these people may be in most need of such initiatives. Hence, while S3P is a great initiative, it still has strict institutional barriers that need to be addressed. 

Instead of simply turning these individuals away, streamlining the homeless to the social service sectors to tackle their mental health, behavioral or addiction issues respectively can improve the lives of those who live without a home. 

Why do people become homeless? 

Of course, there are many reasons why people will resort to sleeping rough on the streets. It could be more than losing a house, poor interpersonal relationships, or encountering misfortune. Homeless people don’t become homeless overnight, but rather, face long-term compounding losses that lead to their homelessness. 

In an article written by Tan and Forbes-Mewett (2017), they identified 3 key institutions that contribute to homelessness in Singapore, arguing that homelessness is far more nuanced than poor individual decisions. 

Work institutions

Work institutions and firms play an important role in maintaining a regular, formal income, which also grants one access to the Central Provident Fund (CPF), to purchase houses and access healthcare subsidies. Social factors could influence one’s decision in losing a stable job and hence, their source of income and savings, or opt for other forms of employment such as self-employment or engaging in the informal economy. 

The nature of non-formal work also creates irregular income, which may lead to insecurity. These factors make home ownership difficult, especially if they are independent or sole providers. 

Social support and interpersonal relationships

According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF, n.d), the family should always be the first line of support. However, not everyone may have the privilege to turn to their families in times of trouble. 

There are various reasons why one may not have adequate social support, such as divorce, leading to the loss of a shared marital home, and poor relationships with family, leading to the distribution of property amongst family members or a de​ath in the family resulting in the sale of the family home. Additionally, various family tensions and conflict may drive one out of their shared homes with their family members or relatives, leaving them independent. 

Interpersonal relationships are difficult to fully understand as they vary across contexts, individual circumstances and family dynamics. Hence, the assumption that one should and can easily turn to their families is inapplicable to everyone. 

Government assistance

Despite various welfare schemes available to Singaporeans based on income level, the process of obtaining a grant or housing subsidy may be long and tedious, which may be particularly difficult to the elderly or to the less educated. Moreover, the stringent criteria may cause those vulnerable to homelessness to fall through the cracks. 

The long process, paired with complicated family problems that, on paper, do not meet the state’s criteria for subsidies may deter the homeless or those vulnerable to homelessness from applying. 

For example, one of the criteria for the public assistance scheme according to the MSF website (2013), states that “Applicant(s) [must] have no/ little means of income and little or no family support”. Such criteria may be difficult to assess as applicants may still have ties with siblings, other relatives, or their children, though not necessarily in good relations. 

Lastly, the lack of information on such welfare schemes may explain why people eventually end up homeless. 

To live without a home… 

In all, just as there is no blanket reason why one may end up homeless in Singapore, the same should apply to the solutions to tackle homelessness in Singapore. Perhaps, instead of stringent and vague criteria that are hard to measure and vary widely across individual circumstances, targeted and personalized schemes can be rolled out to serve the specific needs of the homeless or those who are vulnerable to homelessness. 


Low, Dominic. 2020. “Around 1130 homeless and rough sleepers applied for safe shelters last year”. Retrieved from 

Ministry of Social and Family Development. (n.d). “Empowering the Family as the First Line of Support – Caregiver Support and Financial Security”. Retrieved from  

Ministry of Social and Family Development. 2013. “Public Assistance (PA) Scheme Enhanced To Provide Greater And More Flexible Help For The Needy”. Retrieved from 

Ong, Justin. 2020. “Bars, dividers make spaces less welcome to homeless”. Retrieved from 

Tan & Forbes-Mewett. 2017. “Whose ‘fault’ is it? Becoming homeless in Singapore”. Urban studies, Vol 55(16).

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