Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dr Vivian B and the homeless

Problem Solving, Vivian-style (source)

by Lynn Lee on Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Background:  No lack of sophistry from the government concerning the homeless, by Ng E-Jay: here 

*The Al Jazeera video:  here
I will never forget the look of desperation on Samiah’s face, the way she wringed her hands in anxiety as we walked towards the Family Service Centre. She had been summoned that morning by her social worker, following the release of an Al Jazeera video featuring a homeless couple living in a tent in West Coast Park. The reporter had tried to mask the couple’s identities. But obviously it wasn’t enough. Samiah told me her social worker called to ask if she was the woman in the report.

“What should I do?” Samiah asked the moment she saw me. She looked harried and confused.

I first met Samiah when a few of us decided to get together to distribute biscuits and rice to the homeless in West Coast Park. She was shy at first, but then opened up when we assured her we were volunteers working in our personal capacities. A few weeks later, Al Jazeera visited the same area and found her too.

I told Samiah it was not a crime to speak to reporters. Neither was it a crime to be homeless. If anything, I said, the social worker probably felt bad that she was in such an awful situation and wanted to help. Samiah agreed to tell the truth.  

What happened next shocked me. Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, stood up in Parliament a few days later and revealed selective details of Samiah and her partner’s financial history to well, practically everyone in Singapore. The information was then dutifully regurgitated by the mainstream press. Al Jazeera was accused of not checking its facts. Subsequently, MCYS also released a statement insinuating that the reporter had somehow duped Samiah into granting her an interview. I wasn’t with Samiah when Al Jazeera visited. But surely, any person with an iota of commonsense would be able to tell if a TV crew - with all its attendant gear and what-not - came calling?

Samiah was inconsolable when I next spoke to her. “You told me to tell the social worker the truth! Why are they doing this to me? I’m just a homeless woman! Why are they humiliating me like this?”

I had no answers for her. Nothing I said could make her feel better. The Minister, as far as I can tell, has not attempted to contact her. Vivian probably thought he’d dealt with the “problem” and promptly turned his attention toward bigger things – like how to blow the YOG budget. Lately, he’s trained his guns on rival Vincent Wijeysingha. The good news is, Singaporeans are not idiots and Vincent is more than capable of defending himself. Samiah, in the meantime, remains homeless.

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