Sunday 8 January 2012

Grassroots groups prepare to help more needy residents

Most are ready to cope with any surge in demand and have funding on standby
By Cheryl Ong & Shuli Sudderuddin, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2012

A BANNER put up next to a bus stop in Bishan Street 11 carries the message, 'Do you need short-term financial assistance?'

It has been placed there not by a financial institution but by Bishan East Citizens' Consultative Committee (CCC).

A total of seven such banners were put up in the neighbourhood three weeks ago to publicise its community development and welfare fund schemes for needy residents.

It is not alone in ramping up efforts to reach out to those who may need help as an economic slowdown is widely expected to hit Singapore this year.

A check with other grassroots organisations islandwide found that most are ready to cope with any surge in demand for help.

Mr Kelvin Thong, senior constituency officer at Bishan North Constituency Office, said 14 per cent more bursaries were given out at its Edusave Merit Bursary award ceremony last Saturday.

He added that having experienced the impact of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, grassroots groups are now better prepared and have funding on standby. 'We do not fully use the funding we have every year, so this year, there is definitely a cushion for people's needs. We are prepared to put measures in place.'

Mr Ken Ong, vice-chairman of the Youth Executive Committee at Lam Soon Community Centre in Choa Chu Kang, said it is trying to beef up resources.

It hopes to run a programme - using proceeds from recycling clothes and newspapers to buy groceries for needy families - every three or four months instead of once a year.

'This year might be a special circumstance. And families who can normally afford school supplies might now have difficulty getting even the most basic school needs,' he said.

But Bishan East appears to be the first to put up banners highlighting financial aid programmes.

Bishan East CCC's vice-chairman, Mr Cheong Chee Onn, 70, who is head of the welfare fund committee, said notices were also put up in lift landings. He added that the ward's Member of Parliament, Mr Wong Kan Seng, was concerned that not enough needy residents were tapping the fund which doles out financial aid from ComCare.

The fund's coffers are also boosted by about $50,000 raised yearly by the grassroots groups.

The fund is available to Singapore citizens but permanent residents are also eligible if at least one household member is a citizen. It provides only urgent and temporary assistance in the form of cash, vouchers or food rations for up to three months.

'We have about 12 recipients using our fund but we feel there may be families out there that are not aware of it,' said Mr Cheong. 'We didn't want to say too much with our banners - it's meant to draw attention. The notices we put up at lift landings carry more information on where to get help.'

Still, he noted that about 20 residents had approached the constituency office since the banners were put up.

When The Straits Times spoke to 10 residents in the area, only two said they had spotted the banners while others thought they were advertisements by moneylenders.

Bank officer Lim Sui Hui, 23, said it would be more helpful if the banners were put up in places with higher human traffic.

IT consultant Yusup Ngadimin, 32, felt the banners should be more informative. 'I thought they were lenders offering cash loans at first - we had some problem with moneylenders advertising in our neighbourhood before.'

Landscape supervisor Eddie Hassan, 52, lauds the banner display. 'I had no idea where a person should go to for help but it's good someone who needs help now will look at the banner and know.'

Need short-term financial aid?

THE Citizens' Consultative Committee is one of several networks that disburse social assistance in the form of ComCare, also known as the Community Care Endowment Fund.

The Government-funded ComCare provides regular and sustainable funds for the needy through grassroots organisations, community development councils (CDCs) and voluntary welfare organisations.

They target those in the lower-income category via a variety of schemes, including the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme for families with young children and ComCare Enable for the elderly and infirm.

Those who do not know where to get help can call ComCare Call's 24-hour hotline: 1800-222-0000.

It helps those who need social services, jobs, shelter and financial aid. The hotline's operators are trained to identify the type of help needed and refer callers to the relevant organisations such as CDCs and family service centres.

ComCare Call also shares information with agencies such as the CDCs.

Plan to coordinate aid for poor folk
The Sunday Times, 8 Jan 2012

Needy residents of Kembangan-Chai Chee can look forward to more regular and evenly distributed aid - that is, if a plan to coordinate agencies involved in such drives works out.

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin revealed that he plans to meet 60 to 70 non-governmental organisations over the next six to nine months to discuss drawing up a schedule to deliver aid to the residents in the area.

Currently, these groups, which include churches and clan associations, run their own initiatives to help the lower-income and needy.

An umbrella schedule will make sure all residents get the help they need, and on a more regular basis.

'The way I look at it, there are many helping hands, but you have one brain - a collective brain to coordinate,' said Mr Tan, who was speaking on the sidelines of a community event in Chai Chee Avenue yesterday evening.

He added that the constituency, which he represents, has a number of rental blocks housing needy people and children from low-income families. The ward also has a population of elderly people that is higher than the national average.

While agencies have been running drives such as food distribution, they tend to be ad hoc and may not reach all those who need the help. For example, rice may be given out only at certain blocks.

'The worry is, do people fall between the cracks?' said Mr Tan.

The grassroots level is where such gaps can be closed, he added.

But if there is a collective schedule, the rice distribution would be spaced out among the blocks, and also done on a more regular basis.

And hopefully, the more structured system will encourage volunteers to come forward, said Mr Tan.

'Once it's stabilised, I think it can bring in volunteers from the community,' he said, explaining that people may find it easier to plan their time.

He added that he will also be approaching the other four MPs in his Marine Parade GRC on whether they might be keen on doing something similar.

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