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Singapore’s first-ever youth forum on Homelessness saw 300 GB Girls and teenagers meeting virtually and in person to listen to the stories of ex rough-sleepers, social workers and policymakers.
Co-organised by New Hope Community Services, The Girls’ Brigade Singapore, and Teck Whye Secondary School, the Homelessness Learning Forum: Youth Edition (HLF: YE) hopes to inspire youth to make a difference in the lives of their “invisible neighbours”.
Click here to download a virtual handbook on how to reach out to our “invisible neighbours”.
Guest of Honour Mr Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development opened the forum with an address digitally. In his address, SPS Chua said:
Broken relationships can often send our lives into a tailspin. But when everything seems to be going wrong, community can encourage us to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
One would be hard-pressed to believe that Varshini once lived in a transitional shelter with her mother and elder brother after her family was fractured by divorce. With no home and both parents largely absent from her life, Varshini endured these turbulent times alone as she did not want to burden her friends with her problems.
“There was a point where I kept too much inside me, I felt like I was going to burst”.
Varshini took a leap of faith to talk to her circle of close friends about her problems and they accepted her without judgment, much to her surprise.
Today, Varshini is a professional dancer thanks to her friends who constantly talk her out of her negative thoughts and encourage her to make something of her talents.
Ex-rough sleeper William says he’s also indebted to the people who “had faith in him”.
Having spent his youth sleeping on the streets to avoid his abusive father, William joined gangs to give him the acknowledgement that his broken family never gave him.
William “hit rock-bottom” after he lost his job as a deputy manager and subsequently “lost everything”. He took the courage to seek help from AWWA, which directed him to New Hope’s temporary shelter. There, he was astounded by the unconditional love he received from the shelter staff.
“Just imagine you’re in a boat, you don’t have a paddle, so you’ll never move. But New Hope is that set of paddle…they give you that strength, advice, encouragement, have faith in yourself, face whatever difficulties you have.”
“Just be friends with them,” Derek, a social worker from Homeless Hearts of Singapore advises youth during the conference’s fireside chat panel discussion. “Just befriending them as part of the community is the most important. They are not problems to be solved, but people to be loved.
A friend to many rough sleepers in Singapore, Derek’s advice to would-be youth befrienders is to approach rough sleepers with a snack just to get the conversation going, and to prioritise building friendships instead of approaching them with an agenda.