Friday, 10 January 2014

Social Service Offices: Help in a jiffy for the needy

Social Service Offices, launched six months ago, aim to improve the way help is offered to the needy. The Straits Times spent a day at the Kreta Ayer office to find out how it is benefiting HDB towns.
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2014

DIM street lighting made it a long and sometimes fearful walk home for elderly residents of the Jalan Kukoh estate.

For younger ones it made the area unwelcoming, and those who did visit would do so only to smoke or loiter inconspicuously.

Last October, the residents' committee raised the matter with community partners such as the Housing Board and Tanjong Pagar Town Council, and brighter lights were installed within a month.

It was one of many changes brought about within the estate after the Kreta Ayer Social Service Office (SSO) at Sago Lane was opened last July in an effort to bring help closer to those who need it.

The office, which oversees the Bukit Merah and Outram area, is one of 10 set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development last year.

Offices in Bukit Merah, Choa Chu Kang and Boon Lay opened last month and others will be set up in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Queenstown and Sengkang by June.

The plan is to create a network of 20 such offices - one for each of the bigger HDB towns - in the next two years. They will administer the area's financial and social assistance programmes and act as coordinators and planners of social services.

MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Lily Neo said needy residents also benefited when she referred around 100 cases to the Kreta Ayer SSO after talking to them at her Meet-the-People sessions.

"Their applications get processed and they get interviewed within two weeks - unlike in the past when it would have taken at least one month," she said.

Since it opened, the office has handled 2,700 cases seeking financial and other assistance.

About 80 per cent of the applications received last year came from walk-ins or self-referrals. The rest were referred by community partners such as voluntary welfare organisations.

Residents with several needs are linked up with other help agencies such as hospitals, HDB branch offices and senior activity centres.

Every week, officers from the SSO meet ground agencies such as the Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre (FSC) and Central Singapore Community Development Council to identify needs and social trends particular to the neighbourhood.

This information is then shared with other members of a work group consisting of local agencies such as the Tanjong Pagar Town Council and Bukit Merah East Neighbourhood Police Centre and national agencies like the Workforce Development Agency to brainstorm solutions.

Such closer ties are helping things get done quicker for residents. For instance, the agencies got together to organise the estate's first social service roadshow at a void deck last October to raise awareness of the different services available. More than 500 residents, mostly from rental flats, visited booths run by 12 agencies.

In their regular discussions, community agencies also brought up the issue of a lack of youth services in areas like Chinatown and Tiong Bahru, which are commonly associated with the elderly.

SSO staff surveyed the estate and found that about 20 to 30 per cent of families living in rental flats in Jalan Kukoh and Lengkok Bahru have young children. As a result, they are now working on projects for young families, such as having a social enterprise provide low-income mothers with milk powder, and arranging for a monthly mobile library service.

The SSO is also working with the town council and other partners to create a new street soccer court and football mentorship programme to channel youngsters' energy.

"We have been trying to get some of these projects going for years," said Mr Udhia Kumar, executive director of Tanjong Pagar FSC. "But they are finally gaining traction because the SSO is able to get everyone together to sit down and discuss how to tackle them."

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