I know the answer is an emphatic “no”. That goes for the vast majority of do-gooders who labour tirelessly to make sure no one needs to beg, let alone starve, in Singapore.
Yet, we learn many times from the media over the years about people dying alone, many through starvation, tho not always because they didn’t have food or access to food. It’s just that their mental state, thru old age, ill health, lack of nutrients or wotever, had made them unable to do what would keep them alive, such as eating.
While I’m unabashedly supportive of the PAP and grateful for most of the things that our PAP Government has done and is doing, I’m occasionally miffed by what some of the ministers say, especially when they’ve said it more than once. And doesn’t take the argument further.
Take this thing about beggars in Singapore. Some Netizens have made video clips about this underclass of Singaporeans (most are Singaporeans) and put them on Youtube, so I shan’t belabour the point.
Of course what Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said this week in Parliament is true:
- Singaporeans in financial distress do not have to beg. They can approach the Community Development Councils, Family Service Centres or grassroots organisations for help. There are many voluntary welfare organisations, religious and civic organisations that provide assistance to the needy too.
- If individuals are unsure where to seek help, they can also call the ComCare Call line at 1800-222-0000 to be linked up with these agencies.
But what the good minister may not realise is that those who are begging — or who appear so ragged and hungry on the streets that some passers by seeing them would gladly pass them a couple of $ (even without being asked) — are probably no longer able to go thru the labyrinth of officialdom to get help.
I know of two cases who though already having the attention of MCYS still managed to slip through the cracks and die, simply because there just wasn’t close enough monitoring.
If we take Dr Bala’s advice — ‘Merely giving money to beggars will not solve their more fundamental long-term problems. It may make matters worse by deepening the sense of dependency and loss of dignity..” — then I foresee more genuine needy cases will be denied their only lifeline and more will die of need.
If we take his other advice — Members of the public who come across beggars should inform MCYS promptly so that appropriate action can be taken — then I fear that genuine needy cases would be frightened into their bolt holes, again with foreseeable dire consequences.
As for his last piece of advice — The public can also help the needy by channelling donations to registered charities and Family Service Centres where there are trained social workers who provide effective assistance to people who are truly needy — I can only say that there is always room for direct giving, and not just because some organised charities have been creaming donations.
What’s needed beyond what Dr Bala says is available is the creation of a sprinkling of small feed kiosks offering one basic meal a day at places where homeless destitutes and other down and outs tend to gather: temples, MRT stations and places with public toilet facilities.
Sure, there could be abuse but we won’t know how to tackle such perceived abuse until and unless some such kiosks come into existence to feed the really hungry in a plentiful Singapore.
Meanwhile, I shall continue to give to beggars I come across and even those who don’t beg but look as though they are in dire need of a meal, for really who wants to beg, if they have a genuine alternative?