SINGAPORE: To meet the increasing needs of Singaporeans during the COVID-19 pandemic, a "more integrated and proactive social safety net" will be established, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Tuesday (Jun 2).
Volunteers and partners from the SG Cares Community Network, which include the People's Association, Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, will reach out to Singaporeans in need, starting with those staying in rental flats.
“We want to make sure that there's integration of support for families who face not just financial challenges but also anxiety, family issues, social emotional issues in a complex web that's interlinked,” said Mr Lee in a virtual interview conducted on video conferencing platform Zoom.
Over the next few weeks, SMSes will be sent to about 50,000 rental households to inform them of hotlines and the help available. Calls will also be made to households that are “not known to social agencies” to find out how they are coping.
“If we encounter families that are in distress, the front-facing outreach will then move to (provide) coordinated support among the social service agencies and government departments, depending on what the issues are,” Mr Lee said.
Officers and volunteers will also make visits to the households if necessary to offer assistance.
The outreach will happen in phases, starting with communities with large numbers of rental housing units, and the process is likely to take around “three to six months”.
“We aim to establish contact, get to know them and then this becomes an ongoing relationship that we have,” Mr Lee said.
The network hopes to reach as many people as possible, including the low-income households who are more vulnerable to the impact of a crisis and Singaporeans who have “plunged into uncertain territory of economic difficulty” in this period.
“We need a network out there to look out, to listen and to reach out, through this very proactive organised effort,” he added.
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GREATER COORDINATION TO PREVENT DUPLICATION
The integrated network will also serve as a rallying point for ground-up initiatives and donors, many of which have sprung up during the COVID-19 outbreak to support Singaporeans in need. These range from food and financial aid to support for caregivers.
“Many of them have asked if there’s someone who can help to signpost where the needs are, who can weave us into families that have been identified as vulnerable and can benefit from their support,” said Mr Lee.
“This becomes a platform for the givers in order for the resources to be better marshalled and for collective social impact.”
A more coordinated approach among ground-up groups will also ensure as little wastage as possible and prevent duplication of efforts.
“Of course, they're entirely free to continue giving autonomously,” said Mr Lee.
“But they can be assured that if they come together with other charities, secular or religious organisations and government departments who are part of this network, they will be reaching out to households - starting with the more vulnerable," he added.
While COVID-19 has accelerated the coordination of efforts across various stakeholders, the work started two years ago with the establishment of the SG Cares Community Network.
Since then, a total of 3,500 partners from government and charitable organisations have come together in 21 networking sessions. These were organised by the 24 social service offices (SSOs) to build a tighter local community network of support.
“We also have four pilot Community Link sites in Marsiling, Boon Lay, Jalan Kukoh and Kembangan-Chai Chee, which are microcosms of the wider concept of the SG Cares Community Network and they support the rental households in the community” said Mr Lee.
Moving forward, the community networks and partners will now “stand up” to proactively reach out to other families in rental housing, in all towns.
MORE MANPOWER TO MEET INCREASING NEEDS
Reaching out to vulnerable Singaporeans through calls and visits will be a “major effort”, said Mr Lee.
“We have to bring in lots of people, to train them, make sure they follow safeguards and respect the needs of the families and the dignity.”
That is on top of the increase in manpower that is already seen in social service support.
For example, the number of staff and volunteers at SSOs has “almost tripled”, in order to process COVID-19 public support grants and ComCare applications, which have also increased, said Mr Lee.
Similarly, there has been a spike in the number of people calling the 24-hr National CARE Hotline ever since it started seven weeks ago.
The hotline, which was run by about 500 volunteers in April, is now manned by more than 726 people. A total of 16,000 calls have also been received thus far, of which around 60 per cent are channelled to other relevant organisations for follow-up.
“We had people who exhibit anxiety, depression or signs of depression, some potential risk of self harm,” said Mr Lee.
He gave an example of an elderly lady who had insomnia, caused by the sheer fear of uncertainty for the future. “The calls tend to come late at night. If you talk to the National Care Hotline volunteers and staff, they will tell you the night shift is challenging,” he added.
In a Facebook post, Mr Lee encouraged members of the public to volunteer for the SG Cares Community Network’s outreach efforts.