Monday, November 14, 2011

Homeless by choice?

In yesterday's edition of The Straits Times (ST), there was a report ("Choosing to sleep in the streets", ST, 13 Nov 2011) on how some elderly people in Singapore are apparently "choosing" to sleep outdoors in the streets despite having a home because they have felled out with their rental flat flatmates.

Perhaps I am being too conspiratorial and maybe the writers of this article did not intend their article to be interpreted this way but it appears to me that the article seems to imply homeless people in Singapore are not forced into homelessness due to dire circumstances but are homeless by choice.

Firstly, just look at the title of the article - "Choosing to sleep in the streets" (emphasis mine).

Admittedly, it may be true that some local elderly people do indeed choose to sleep outdoors at night because they cannot stand staying together with their rental flatmates. As the article puts it, out of the fifteen elderly people the writers spoke to, eight "admitted that they live in rental flats nearby but did not want to return because they had quarrelled with their flatmates".

However, later on in the article, it is stated that in 2010, "the authorities picked up 339 lone vagrants - up from 217 in 2009" and earlier in the article, that stallholders in the vicinity of Sago Lane in Chinatown observed that "the number of elderly vagrants has almost doubled in the past six months".

Surely, it cannot be the case that all the 339 cases mentioned above are elderly people who are "choosing" to sleep outdoors because they have quarrelled with their flatmates?

More importantly, if one look closer at the figures above, one will realise that just over a short period of one year, there was about an increase of 56.2% in the number of lone vagrants picked up by the local authorities. To me, the question of why there was such a dramatic increase would be a much more pertinent question but, unfortunately, that does not seem to be a question the article's writers appeared to have asked.

Surely, it cannot be merely a case of more local elderly people suddenly deciding that they cannot stand their flatmates and thus choose to sleep outdoors, can it?

I do not know about you all but it seems to me that there should be a more deep-seated reason behind this increase of lone vagrants/homeless people than just elderly people "choosing" to sleep outdoors because they cannot stand their flatmates. Something is wrong here which should not escape people's attention.

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