Creating a home for the homeless during the COVID-19 outbreak

Volunteers with New Hope Community Services are preparing a shelter for the homeless.

Audrey Leong

Published: 3 March 2020, 7:10 PM

While the COVID-19 outbreak has seen many shutting themselves at home with an excess of supplies, New Hope Community Services (NHCS) is looking to put a roof over the heads of those who lack such a privilege.

Since December, volunteers working with NHCS have been sorting through donated clothes and furniture in preparation for a new temporary shelter.

Youth volunteers from painting the partitions of the new temporary shelter. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/AUDREY LEONG

This would provide rough sleepers – more commonly known as the homeless – with some protection from COVID-19, and resources to keep them out of harm’s way.

On Saturday (Feb 29), volunteers from the Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) teamed up with the staff from NHCS to add a fresh coat of paint on the walls of Transit Point @ Margaret Drive. These were the finishing touches to the temporary shelter, before they welcome their first occupants next week.

Providing shelter for those in need

Established in 2004, the charity is a voluntary welfare organisation that has been providing temporary, or transitional shelters for displaced individuals here.

Lilian Ong, Director of Social Needs at NHCS, explained that there was a growing need for the shelter to be built in order to protect these individuals, usually aged 40 and above, from the elements.

“A lot of times, these rough sleepers neglect their health to spend on necessities, which leaves them vulnerable to falling sick,” the 43-year-old said.

Volunteers have been helping to transform Transit Point @ Margaret Drive from an old dormitory into a new interim shelter. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/AUDREY LEONG

Located in the heart of Queenstown, the temporary shelter can fit a maximum of 100 rough sleepers. Each sleeping area is partitioned into five sections to give the individual their own space.

They will also have access to communal amenities such as washing machines and toilets, and for those who need it, clothes and warm meals.

By next week, the first batch of four to five tenants are expected to move into the shelter, and NHCS hopes to be able to provide for more tenants in the future.

The communal space shown currently holds donated items from the public that will be given to the shelter’s new tenants. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/AUDREY LEONG

More than just a roof over their heads, Lilian hopes that these rough sleepers will be able to use the home as a stepping stone to get back on their feet, by engaging them in structured training programs to increase their employability.

“We also hope to be able to provide them with a safe place to correspond with the authorities and a community that they can belong in,” Lilian said.

Washing machines and toilets are just some of the facilities provided for the shelter’s tenants. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/AUDREY LEONG

Caring for the health and safety of residents

To ensure the health and safety of all tenants in the home, Lilian stressed that stringent health screenings will be implemented.

Temperature taking exercises will be conducted, and each resident will be provided with masks, sanitisers and access to any information about the state of the virus in the community.

“Hopefully we can give them the knowledge they need to better themselves,” Lilian said, elaborating how residents of the shelter will be able to pick up basic hygiene practices to protect themselves against the virus.

Volunteerism in light of COVID-19

Lilian also hopes that Singaporeans will continue to come forward to volunteer their time and effort towards those in need during this time.

Last month, the charity faced a sudden halt in volunteers as Singapore moved to DORSCON Orange. This caused many corporate organisations to halt or postpone their volunteering efforts.

YCS volunteers mixing paint for the walls of the new shelter. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/AUDREY LEONG

Lilian thus praised the YCS youths for volunteering. She said: “These well-informed and courageous youths are taking a very bold step to fill in the gaps that have been left by the lack of volunteers.”

To the youths however, helping these rough sleepers was seen as just a matter of civic duty.

Emily feels that there was no difference between volunteering now and before the emergence of COVID-19. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/AUDREY LEONG

The first year ITE College West student said: “COVID-19 is not a big thing to me because I’ve got a home and a shelter, but for those who don’t, we need to reach out to them.

“If no one wants to step up to help those in need, then I don’t think we are working together as a nation to fight the virus.”

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