With less than a week to go before Christmas, many of us might be busy sorting out party plans. But for some families in Singapore, there are anxieties over basic needs, such as where they can find a place to stay this season.
Weighed down by this burden, Abraham Yeo, co-founder of Homeless Hearts of Singapore (HHOS) has written an appeal to ask churches, families and accommodation providers to consider opening up their premises this Christmas on an emergency basis to help shelter at least one homeless family.
This is an invisible crisis that’s visible only to those who are already on the ground.
“Friends, I am not dramatising this – because the numbers AND stories the social workers share with us are too real. This is an invisible crisis that’s visible only to those who are already on the ground. If we move fast together, we can help prevent this crisis from worsening,” he shared.
“We have seen at least one recorded case of a family with a young baby breaking up from divorce due to the stress of being homeless and penniless. Please, let us not silently stand by and watch yet more families slip into homelessness (and even possibly suicide).”
There are a number of reasons why families are homeless this Christmas, Abraham pointed out.
Besides the high cost of living and the fact that there are still foreigners who are stranded in Singapore, rents have been rising and hotels/hostels are running out of space or increasing their rates due to staycations and vaccinated travel lanes opening up this December.
In addition, HHOS observed that some churches are closing down their shelters for the homeless in the move back to “normal”.
From 23 churches that opened up in 2020, only 18 churches will still be hosting the homeless as of January 2022, noted Abraham.
Over the past two months (October 17–December 17, 2021), HHOS has compiled a total of 49 homeless help requests. Based on the information collated, they have shared a few observations:
- 14.3% of the homeless help requests are families (both single parents and couples) with at least one kid.
- The vast majority of homeless help requests are sent in by social workers (i.e. the very people who are supposed to be helping them have to find help from elsewhere).
- The risk of abuse was a small but real factor too.
- More than a third of the homeless help requests are people in danger of becoming homeless, meaning they currently have a place to stay but are facing pending eviction or are running out of funds.
Furthermore, these help requests were only gathered from a small number of social workers in Singapore (around 30+).
“In short, what you see here is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Abraham. That is why HHOS has released this appeal yesterday, with just one week left to Christmas.
“It may be because the Church has not fully understood that homelessness is far more than just not having a place to stay,” he observed.
“It is the experience of being alienated from family and not having a single friend to call on for shelter, or for help with big as well as small problems that crop up in life…
“The truth is, people don’t become homeless initially because they run out of resources but because they run out of relationships first.”
That is why HHOS is urging believers to respond to the Lord’s call to care for the homeless this Christmas.
“Dear friends, just as there was no place at the inn to receive Jesus and His family, we see friends and families who have no place to lay their heads this Christmas,” pleaded Abraham.
“Please open up your hearts and homes. The homeless need to see and hear the good news that the Father loves them and has NOT forgotten them.”
WILL YOU MAKE ROOM?
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: … Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
Responding to these concerns, Kenneth Thong of The Last Resort, who together with his wife have been opening up their home for more than a decade, appealed to individuals to consider the role they can play.
“Our first instinct might be to ask: Why isn’t the government helping to shelter these people?” acknowledged Kenneth. “Or who can I give some money to, to help? Can my local church open its doors to let people stay?
“These instincts are not wrong, and have contributed to the solutions at Homeless Hearts of Singapore.”
But Kenneth believes there may also be a danger in such thinking: “Could it be that our knee-jerk reactions to the homeless in Singapore reveal more about our true responses to God’s heart?
“‘Here I am, God: Send the homeless to a shelter of sorts.'”
Here I am, God: Send the homeless to a shelter of sorts.
His fear is that in trying to find solutions for the homeless, Christians may have “bypassed God’s way” in favour of solutions that are easier or more convenient.
“Granted, it’s a lot faster to find a shelter, even an open church premise, than a family with both space to spare in the home and heart,” Kenneth conceded. “But shouldn’t it mean something that opening our houses are our last resort, if even on the list of solutions?
“Where did Joseph and Mary go when there was no place to stay? When they were far from home and the Lord Jesus’ birth was near?
“They went to a house. Not quite the beautiful and comfortable part of the house, but it was still an available place in the house – part of someone’s home.”
While we might have hard data about Singapore’s homeless, Kenneth said that statistics won’t shift the needle for as long as believers don’t take God’s heart towards the homeless seriously.
But what might it look like if believers gave the gift of home this Christmas?
To Kenneth, it is a simple matter of being willing to provide “refuge and respite”.
“In Singapore, there are enough shelters for men, but not quite so for homeless families, women and children,” he revealed, urging believers to bring the gift of home to the least of these Jesus alludes to in Matthew 25:40.
“Will you make room?”
5 WAYS TO HELP HOMELESS FAMILIES THIS CHRISTMAS
1. Open your church
Churches can open Safe Sound Sleeping Places (S3P). Simply set aside a comfortable room or two to make space for a homeless family. Such spaces are greatly needed by homeless families and women.
Contact the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) at [email protected] to get started, or Yio Chu Kang Chapel at [email protected] to learn more the practical aspects (complete with guides) of S3P operations.
It’s not just about giving the homeless a place to stay, but also about extending friendship, warmth and hospitality this Christmas. Who better to do such a beautiful thing than the churches – especially at Christmas?
Imagine throwing a lavish Christmas dinner for hungry homeless people and families. That will surely be a dinner fit for our Lord Jesus Himself!
Make a difference by hosting a needy family at your place over the Christmas period until January-February 2022.
HHOS’ close partner, Open Home Network, which aims to encourage Singaporeans to open homes to the needy, will come alongside you to provide practical support and guidance. You can reach out to them here.
Can’t host? You can also volunteer as befrienders to visit and provide emotional support as fellow parents, as well as journey with them even after they settle down. Because it’s not just about helping them find a place, but also showing Christ’s love to them and treating them as family too.
3. Offer subsidised accommodation
Hotel/hostel operators and landlords: You can offer rooms or flats at subsidised rates. Drop HHOS a message at [email protected] to sort out the details.
Christian landlords should also consider keeping rents capped during this time to help lower-income and debt-burdened families get through this period, said Abraham.
Trust the Lord to provide for you as you choose to be generous to those in need — you are ultimately lending to the Lord.
4. Refer the homeless to Homeless Hearts of Singapore
If you have any homeless families who need urgent places to stay, but you have already exhausted all your other options, go to the HHOS website at help.homeless.sg.
You can also reach out to HHOS if you’re a social worker (or you know one) who needs more options to help homeless clients.
HHOS promises to work with you to explore how to bring hope to the situation.
5. Support the #CityOfRefuge project with skills or funding
The data HHOS collected was made possible through their #CityOfRefuge web app, which has been under development for the past two years.
To view the latest update, you can go to https://help.homeless.sg/dashboard.
If you are interested to help fund the continued development of the app or contribute your coding skills, please visit http://homeless.sg/cityofrefuge-app/.
- With thanksgiving to God, take a moment to consider the talents and gifts He has placed in your life.
- Based on the 5 ways to help homeless families, what is one practical thing you can do to help this urgent “invisible crisis”?
- Share this article with people you know who can offer help and make a difference.