By Serene Leong
When we think of the homeless, many of us think of people who don’t have families or a home to stay.
But many of them do have families, says Joyder Ng, who manages the homeless shelter for Sowcare, the charity arm of the Bible Society of Singapore that aims to serve and empower underprivileged communities in Singapore.
She tells The Pride: “They might have big families and the house is too small. It’s not about the bad choices that they made, but they are in circumstances where they are not able to stay in a proper house, that’s why they have no choice but to be homeless.”
The shelter at Sowcare was set up in April last year. It used to be a carpark for staff but is not in use because of work-from-home measures. Joyder explains that it is just a temporary stay for the homeless — they would stay there for a few months and they would be encouraged to move on to a longer accommodation.
Joyder says that the homeless issue became more prevalent during the start of Covid-19 and the circuit breaker. Back then, residents had to stay home and go out only for essential activities like buying food. As a result, homeless individuals had nowhere to go.
Shelters called Safe, Sound Sleeping Places (S3Ps) help to ensure that the homeless are taken care of. As an S3P, the Sowcare shelter was open for 24 hours during the circuit breaker and rough sleepers could come in, set up their beds, and rest at any time they wanted to.
Joyder says: “We had one rough sleeper who had no place to eat, so when he bought his food he had to hide to eat, and because he couldn’t be staying outside on the street, he was taking the bus from one destination to another. When I heard this I was quite sad.”
Over the past two years, Joyder has come to know the rough sleepers in the shelter. But it was not easy at first.
Joyder says: “I recall the first time I met them and talked to them, they were wary of me because we were not very close. Then, I was just managing the shelter and I provided the things that they needed, like their essentials.”
So she decided to break the ice by inviting them for a meal. She says: “They would say ‘okay, I wait for the others to come… They were very paiseh (Singlish for embarrassed).’”
Recently they had a meal together, and Joyder happily shares that things were very different now: “they (even) set up the table for us!”
Joyder says the interactions and relationships that the residents at the shelter have built with one another are the most fulfilling part of her job.
She says: “I really treasure it and I think they treasure it as well. I see friendships blossoming over here, which is wonderful because they have always been alone outside sleeping on the street. Now they can find friends here.”
Joyder shares that on one occasion, she visited one of the rough sleeper’s homes and got to meet his daughter and grandchildren. They even remembered her when she came back to visit them a second time!
She adds that she has learnt a lot from them and that they have taught her to become a better person.
She says: “They have many life experiences. They are so calm and cool while I am like a kancheong (Singlish for nervous) spider. They taught me how to handle it and take life as it is.”
While she extends help to the homeless, she says that “we should extend empathy and not sympathy” as they are just like anyone with friends and family, who work and earn money for themselves.
She says: “Even if we don’t understand, we should not judge them. If we sow care, we can reap care, if we sow kindness, we can also reap kindness. When I care for them, I also feel the care from them.”
“I believe that any of us can have the kindness to care for someone else. We don’t have to do something very big, but everyday kindness, anyone can do that right?”