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A Refuge Amidst the Pandemic
Jun 2020

In September 2019, Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (PSPC) joined the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network, an initiative by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and various community partners. The church launched The Oasis@PSPC, a Safe Sound Sleeping Place (S3P) where rough sleepers can spend the night before leaving the next morning.

A room in PSPC was repainted, retrofitted with new windows, and furnished with beds and cupboards for guests to store their belongings. Soon after, The Oasis was filled to its maximum capacity of three guests.

Two months later, in November, results from Singapore's first Homelessness Street Survey were published. According to the study led by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the downtown area had the largest number of homeless individuals, with 251 spotted during a single night count.

One finding from the survey affirmed that PSPC was well-placed to serve the homeless community. Rochor, the estate in which PSPC is located, was one of four estates identified to have a high concentration of between 50 and 100 rough sleepers during a cumulative count that was conducted over three months.

Reasons for homelessness in Singapore are varied, and include insecure work and poverty, family relationship problems, and inadequate or inaccessible housing services. While some homeless individuals have homes under their name, they often cannot stay there due to conflicts with family members or housemates, or a preference to stay near their workplace.

Many of the rough sleepers are often aged, making them especially vulnerable to disease outbreaks. During the recent eight-week-long Circuit Breaker period, PSPC remained open around the clock to serve an increased capacity of nine rough sleepers despite the closure of places of worship.

Soon after the government announced on April 3 that a lockdown would take place in Singapore from April 7 onwards, community groups worked together with the MSF to increase bed spaces for the homeless among member organisations of the PEERS Network.

In response, The Oasis@PSPC's capacity was temporarily expanded from April 13. PSPC's Malaysian caretaker, Mr Tay, also stayed on the church premises during the circuit breaker as he was affected by Malaysia's lockdown measures. While safe-distancing measures were taken, the maximum of ten residents within PSPC meant that everyone could still move about relatively freely and comfortably, without the need for stricter rules like staggered mealtimes to be enforced.

The nine spaces in PSPC's expanded Oasis were among about 700 spaces that were offered by 46 existing or potential partners of the PEERS Network across Singapore during the Circuit Breaker. More than 500 of these spaces were taken up when the country was in lockdown.

A number of logistical arrangements were overseen by the church manager Edmund, including ensuring sufficient bedlinen and mattresses in the conference and toddlers' room, setting up the fellowship hall as a dining area, and ensuring that The Oasis@PSPC's residents would be occupied by providing them with reading materials and a shared television.

The nine residents in The Oasis were between 58 to 70 years old, and were referred to The Oasis and briefed by Catholic Welfare Services (CWS). While PSPC provided lunch and dinner for the residents through food delivery services, breakfast, titbits and beverages were supplied by CWS. On days when he was on the church premises to ensure that everyone's wellbeing was provided for, Edmund also brought fruit for the residents, which Mr Tay would prepare and serve to them.

Residents were required to measure and record their temperatures twice a day, and only left PSPC to run essential errands. In the dining area, tables were placed at least two metres apart, and residents had to use the same table and cutlery that they had been assigned at every mealtime. At MSF's request, an isolation area - the church kitchen - was also set up. Any resident who was ill would be held there until transport to a medical facility arrived. A designated bin for used personal protective equipment was provided.

Since the Circuit Breaker was lifted, the expanded Oasis@PSPC has continued to operate, and will be open until the end of June. However, since June 2, the shelter has only been open to residents between 8pm and 8am daily, allowing them to go out in the day. Beyond the three long-term residents that stayed in The Oasis prior to the Circuit Breaker, PSPC's other guests will be relocated to suitable housing solutions by CWS.

We thank God that amidst the pandemic, The Oasis@PSPC could be a shelter for rough sleepers, and allowed PSPC to live out its 2020 church theme: "Serving Our Community, Blessing The World". We also pray for God's protection over those who continue to sleep rough.

*Names of rough sleepers used are fictitious.

Photos (by Edmund Chan):


PSPC's conference room was used as a temporary sleeping area


Tables were spaced apart in the dining hall, and a shared television kept residents occupied


A pantry area was set up, with snacks provided by Catholic Welfare Services


The expanded Oasis' isolation area, with a designated bin for used personal protective equipment




 
 




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