17 January 2007

Sir, may I have the can please?

Economists at a recent conference pointed out that Singapore seems to have a dual economy, with the domestic sector much more sluggish than the globally-oriented one. They warned of social instability to come. Two recent encounters with the destitute suggest that society may already be fraying at the edges. Full essay.


Anonymous said...

Alex, do you realise even many of these can and rubbish bin scavengers are no longer just Singaporeans. Many are PRC and Indian men. This is the kind of floodgates the govt has opened us to. Not to mention the stealing of metal bits and parts from public properties.

A govt that holes itself up in the ivory tower crunching at rosy numbers and economic data impervious to what is really happening on the ground has long ago lost the mandate to rule.

Anonymous said...

Instead of hurrmphing about the poor woman who wanted your can, u shld have given her some money for a MEAL. That shouldn't be too much. The govt has PA but some of these benighted souls just don't understand and think they shouldn't trouble the state. You'd do better to try and help convince them that self esteem is NO big thing when you are starving and actually, there IS state help. Go check out the old man outside the OLD Nafa (ex St Anthony Convent) and opp the NLB. He scavenges old cans to create souvenirs but barely survives. (Who will buy souvenirs from some as dirty as your vagrant on your bus, unless they are equally spaced out) I'd take you seriously if u can convince him to accept PA or other help from, say the Breadline. Otherwise I'd think u are just another yada-yada...

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

ybjmmoShe wasn't begging and one doesn't go around offering money to people who aren't begging - it would most likely be seen as the height of arrogance.

I don't even know what "PA" is nor where such help can be obtained. Maybe I should, but I'm not in the business of running a welfare service, or running a state.

The point of the essay is to think about what those who ARE in the business of running a state ought to be aware of regarding the situation on the ground, and why even the middle class cannot dismiss such trends in the mistaken belief that they are not affected.

Your comment is actually a form of silencing. You are saying in effect that I am not a saint, and therefore I cannot be taken seriously. This is a very Singaporean way of discourse.

Anonymous said...

While I can see the point of this essay, I cannot help but think that you have somehow missed some of the underlying causes of vagrancy and homelessness, namely mental illness accompanied in many cases by drug and/or alcohol addiction. This is the same situation present in countless other societies, both here and in the west.
Additionally, I recall that a few years ago in San Francisco the city government placed an initiative on the ballot that would replace cash payments to the homeless with vouchers that would pay for rent, food, clothing, etc. The initiative passed, but the homeless and their advocates were dead set against this plan. Why? Because for many, living on the streets was a choice. They did not want to have flats alloted to them for they were much more comfortable on the streets. While I am fairly certain that the older woman that you encountered at the hawker centre did not choose this path in life, there are likely others that have and all of the PA and government intervention in the world is not going to change that.
Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking essay.

Not A Saint said...

To anon at 17 January, 2007 17:21: "I'd take you seriously if u can convince him to accept PA or other help from, say the Breadline. Otherwise I'd think u are just another yada-yada..."

There is an saying "let those without sin cast the 1st stone". What have you done for that old man yourself? Yada-yada? Or have you yourself tried but failed to convince him to accept help and now challenge others to intrude on his right to decline?

To anon at 17 January, 2007 11:56:

At a town which twice visited by the English Queen, there is a handful of scavengers, most look-born-and-bred Singaporeans (and sounds Singaporean when you speak with them) every night. I noticed recently an emergence of the occasional PRC-looking ones (one can tell when they open their mouth). I do not look at these scavengers with pity, for they are handling their hardships in their own ways, and with some dignity left in their modest attempts at self-help.

abao said...

@yawning bread
Maybe PA refers to People's Association?

Anyway, these people collecting cans have been around for quite some time. I saw one or two occasionally from time to time. Though I feel that collecting cans for a living isn't wrong, I do feel sad as those collecting them (well, at least those that I saw) are mostly singaporeans in their old age.

BK said...

I really doubt if anonymous at 17:21 will attempt to spend time convincing a poor woman accepting help from state, during lunch hour? It really sounds ridiculous to me as without that YB shldn't be taken seriously?!?

Anyway, as far as I understand, the world of these poor scavengers has an eco system of their own, they have their own territories and guard them with their best efforts. Each of them too has to fight to survive, even doing scavenging works.

And, just the other day, while having lunch, there was a man who suddenly sat next to me and said "uncle (he's obviously older than me) can give me one two dollars to buy food? you know, it's difficult to get jobs..." I ponder for a while and looking back at his face, while he didn't look back, I saw a tired face, older than me 50+ man, not shaved or groomed whatsoever... and I decided to give him $2. He thanked me a few times. I'm not sure whether if he's cheating me. I saw him walk quite briskly away and didn't cont'd asking money from other tables.

I need to point out that, I am not usually a money-giving person, whether it's beggars on the street with one leg amputated, or blind ppl selling tissue paper, or even similarly someone just approach right to the face and ask. But that day, I decided to give. I don't know why. Just something to share with the folks here.

Lela said...

This is interesting. This morning, I was just wondering if there were more homeless ppl around.

Near my neighbourhood, a lot of people lie/rest/(or even) live at the void decks and benches. But maybe that's because there is a high proportion of the very elderly in my neighbourhood and they just want to come out of the flat for a walk.

The one that really set me thinking was this vagrant looking woman who appears in Citylink mall. I just started work at the Suntec area so I walk through fairly often, and I've seen her both in the early morning and at evening times. It's a little..uncomfortable? Menacing? Odd? I don't know.

I saw her again this morning and I wondered if I should alert the Citylink concierge/management/security guards. But I didn't/haven't, cos I can't really figure out what my purpose of informing them is, and what they can do. Chase her out? Find her help?

So as you can see from my many ///, I'm just a little perturbed and I haven't really figured out what I should/can do for the Citylink lady.

Anonymous said...

erh, any idea what we can do for vagrant people in Singapore? How coincidental that I should read this after a day of wondering what I (can do/ should do) (for/about) the vagrant looking lady who is always walking about citylink mall.

I just started working at suntec and I walk through Citylink very often. I've seen her, this morning as well, and I'm wondering if I should ask/alert/report/tell Citylink's management/security/concierge about it. But I'm jus very unsure about the outcome of such a measure...as you can see from the ///

I mean, what do I hope to achieve from that? chase her out? Seek help for her? Will the guards help? Any idea if there are any avenues of help for them? Woah...Anyone wants to suggest the proper measures I can take?

Anonymous said...

The point of YB's article is to highlight the apparent and growing fissures and cracks in this society - the affective divide, the income gap, yadda yadda, whatever one chooses to call it. It is a gentle reminder that all is not well in lalaland and things are going from bad to worse if you do not belong to the top quantile of earners.

While it is admirable to do our part in whatever ways we can to help the less fortunate and those left behind, let's not fall into the sympathy and pity trap and forget to look at the big picture and ask ourselves has this govt done its best for its own people? Bearing in mind in a tightly controlled society like ours govt policies are the main agents of change.

loupgarou said...

PA = public assistance scheme,


Anonymous said...

I have been away from Singapore for more than 6 years now. During my trips home, I do preceive more and more homeless people in Singapore. Believe that the widening income gap is creating increasing adverse undercurrent in our society. With the top earners (or those pegged to them) earning astronomical amount, no wonder the poor is getting poorer...

Anonymous said...

loupgarou said...
PA = public assistance scheme,


18 January, 2007 16:41

Thanku! At last someone here has some useful info to impart.. shame on the rest who r forever active in criticising the govt, but when asked to DO something really useful, impactful n meaningful for JUST one case, will bleat ignorance. Eh wot's PA? Eh I'm not a social worker, wot, etc. Well, neither are u a politican but y do u think u are so qualified to criticise pple who run the country when u can't even help ONE poor woman collecting cans for a living, without shrugging it off as "she's not a beggar". Yes, she isn't a beggar but u can still help without injuring her dignity by saying, "Eh auntie, can I buy you a can drink? That way, u can have a drink and keep the can? Want or not?" But no, that means doing something really creative and generous; and yes, giving away 80 cts which is bigger than a 747 to those so generous with their vicious attacks on their own country.

Let me end by saying it's a good way of shrugging off every individual's responsibility to his/her fellow citizen in need by saying that the person in need has chosen to starve and so be it. I hope all who think this way will fall on hard times one day and let all who come pass them say: Let him/her starve, he/she must not be prevented from doing so since this is his/her right and we must allow him/her keep his/her dignity.

I'll dance on the graves of those who receive such just dessert.

kelvin said...

Even 5 years ago, when I started work in the Chinatown area, there were already the signs of the very poor appearing on our streets.

What really shocked me was once, I was walking back from a night out, at about 3am, by Maxwell Road, when I saw an entire family, two parents and 3 young kids - say 7 to 10 years old, working on the streets, sorting through papers and cardboards for resale.

While they were not homeless, they must have been in dire straits, for all of them to work.

I have to say, I was stunned, because I was in lala land, coming back from the UK, with its much more severe homeless problem, and having spent 2 years back thinking that there was not such a problem in Singapore.

A few thoughts crossed my mind:

1 How would the kids be able to do well in school to break out of the poverty cycle?

2 Why was there no reporting of this segment of society?

3 How is it that they have not chosen to look for Public Assistance?

4 Was it a good thing that they have chosen to work, rather than to beg like what we see in so many other countries? Is the work-ethic really so ingrained into our people?

5 Was there an invisible city that exists behind our shiny buildings and modern malls - that you would only see if you took the less trodden path, or wandered around at ungodly hours when *respectable* people with *regular jobs* were safely in bed dreaming their middle class dreams?

My experience in the past years was that (5) is quite the case. It all depends if you want to see it or not.

I do not think that many of these would be willing to take handouts from us, for whatever reason, and I would not discount that they have a sense of pride and dignity that prevents them from begging.

Thus, I WOULD buy things that I do not really need, and pay more than what is asked - is this silly? Not for me.

Do what you feel is right, but do something, however small.

As for those who do beg, let your conscience guide you - my guess is that if they are local, it is quite an extreme situation that would have forced them into doing this. We are such a small city, with such judgemental citizens, what would it take to drive someone to beg? There is almost no way of knowing if the person is genuinely in need or not, but do think of your relative situation - is that $1 dollar or so, as important to you as to the person asking? If s/he is a cheat, well, let his/her consience be troubled, and not your own, for you have GIVEN.

There are those who helped to build our shiny city, and still have no means to have one hot meal a day because they cannot afford the 2 dollars or so.

All of us need to open our eyes... its the first step.


Anonymous said...

Recently on a visit to Singapore, I read about two well dressed young ladies refusing to give up their seats on the MRT to a pregnant lady. When I read this to a Singaporean friend, he retorted, "Hey, how to give up your seat if you have to commute everyday?" So much for a caring society. Thank God I no longer live in Sinka-poor!

cognitivedissonance said...

To add on to loupgarou's comment: I remembered that the PA amount was ~$260 but had to spend some time googling it to get the reference. Here it is.

Public Assistance, MCYS site

And here is the link for 1995 and 2000-05 statistics for Community Services, of which PA is one (pg 6 of the linked pdf).

Hope that this additional information may be helpful.

Anonymous said...

Isn't BEGGING against the law in good old Singapore?
Re; the homeless. I don't think it matters who they are, the numbers of homeless will continue to grow.

Anonymous said...

What's this debate all about?

The picture showing a so-called "homeless" man sleeping on the staircase is apparently an indian and in all probability a drunk indian foreign worker.

Most if not all garang guni men or women are from the PRC. Some could even be illegal overstayers. They cannot get jobs, nor PA help. So what do they do? It's either Geylang or scavenging for drink cans or becomming garang guni collectors.

Yes, the number of so-called poor and homeless has increased over the years. Is this surprising? Certainly not, the number of illegal indian and PRC overstayers has also increased. Proportionately.

The only quarrel I have with the authorities is that they are not doing enough to clear the streets of these illegal aliens. The big question I want to ask is "Why?"

Anonymous said...

Ithink the government shld really do sumthing abt this. . .its really spoiling our public image to the world