SINGAPORE: A project to get the East Coast Park homeless resettled has garnered positive results. Project 4650, started in 2010, has helped about 230 families so far.
The multi-agency effort arose from the emergence of a large number of people living in tents, along the East Coast Park beach, a few years ago.
The problem of families found living in public parks and beaches peaked in 2009, at the height of the Asian financial crisis.
Dr Maliki Osman, Minister of State for National Development, said: "On a daily basis we usually identify about 5 to 10 at that time and what we saw were families with very young children and it was a concern to us.
"Some borrowed money from family and friends and they figured that selling their flat was their only option.
"Many sold their flats and when they sold their flats they have difficulty looking for alternative flats for various reasons. (For instance they) can't afford another loan because their income wasn't there...some families ended up in parks, void deck spaces."
So began Project 4650 - named after the two blocks these families are now housed in.
The Azezy family moved in in 2011.
The family pay about $300 a month in rent and conservancy charges under the Interim Rental Housing Scheme for a room in a 3-room flat.
It's a tight space for the family of seven, but a far cry from their days living out of a van in Punggol Park.
Recalling those days, Mr Mohd Azezy Mohd Ayub said: "How you feel? Crying...but I never cried in front of my children."
Today, Mr Azezy holds a stable job and is even pursuing a diploma.
He now brings home about $1,800 a month working as a storeman.
And the family are looking forward to moving into their own Build-To-Order flat next year.
"I need a home. Home is important," said Mr Azezy.
Project 4650 provides holistic support - from helping the families re-locate to financial planning and supporting the children's educational needs.
It targets families with children below the age of 18.
Dr Maliki said: "One of the things that we wanted to make sure is that while we bring the families and provide them shelter, we don't just tell them, 'Okay, I've given you a shelter, go find your own way'.
"The welfare of the children is of utmost importance to us. We looked at the data when they came in. We saw that there was a significant number who have young children and we were concerned whether the children were doing well in school.
"I met some of the children and there are kids who are in Primary Five who can't even read the title of a book! So it raises concern to me and I thought we have to begin to understand how best we can support these families holistically."
The granting of financial help is tied to the attendance of workshops which cover topics like financial literacy or parenting skills.
And every week night, volunteers also run a "Homework Cafe" at Siglap Community Club for the children in the programme.
Munawara Fathima, a 21-year-old volunteer and coordinator who is also the vice-chairperson of Siglap Youth Executive Committee, said: "Before the programme started, we actually realised that these kids were hanging around the estate and neighbourhood at 9 o'clock, 10 o'clock, doing nothing. We realised that there's quite a large group of these kids.
"That's when we decided that rather than them hanging around, we'd rather they come together in a group and we give them an environment to sit down and do their homework."
To date, Project 4650 has helped about 230 families.
130 have since moved out to rent a flat of their own place or gone on to buy a BTO flat.
But some cases are still coming in.
A check at East Coast Park saw a few campers who admitted to living at the beach.
It's hard to tell if the people camping at East Coast Park are there for recreational reasons or if they are truly homeless.
Hence, authorities conduct regular patrols on public parks and beaches across Singapore to identify, investigate and help any individual or families seen to be squatting in the area.
They look out for things like how long a tent has been pitched in the area, signs of clothing or used cooking utensils - anything that points to the possibility of someone making the public space their home.
Dr Maliki said it's all about giving the families a sense of empowerment.
He said: "You may be seen as down and out when you were at the beaches or the parks but it doesn't mean that you are. You have the ability to pick up and do well.
"So we give them hope, we give them a sense that really they can improve their lives, and to many of these families, I think they saw the light when they saw things moving.
"So in dealing with these families you have to show them that you can offer them something tangible.
"Some of them, for example, come to us and they have arrears in the children's school fees.
"We say, 'come, we work with you, we'll find sources to support you and manage some of these arrears for you.'
"When they start to see tangible results, they start thinking that 'yes, these are the people that we want to work with, these are the people that believe in my potential and working with them will bring a better future for me and my children'."
Moving forward, the team behind the project is looking at new models of intervention as well as bringing new partners on board. - CNA/ir/fa
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