Asia

New feature on OneService app for residents to alert authorities to person in need

SINGAPORE – Residents who spot a rough sleeper in need can now tap a feature on the OneService application that will alert social service agencies to the location, so assistance can be provided quickly.

With the Help Neighbour feature, residents also do not have to determine the correct agency to contact or hotline to call.

The new feature, which was piloted on June 30 this year by the Municipal Services Office (MSO), Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), uses geo-tagged data.

Such data provides location and geographical details, among other things.

For a start, the agencies are focusing on four main groups of persons commonly flagged by neighbours: vulnerable seniors, rough sleepers, cardboard collectors and tissue paper sellers who may be in need.

Those not in these four groups can be categorised as “Others” on the app.

As at August 2021, feedback on persons in need has been submitted 58 times, with about 60 per cent of these referrals already known to the agencies.

This means the other 40 per cent picked up were new cases that were added to the agencies’ radar, said Ms Sim Ann, who oversees the MSO, in a Facebook post on Thursday (Sept 2).

In a statement, MSO, MSF and AIC said that residents are encouraged to engage the person perceived to be in need first – when it is deemed safe and respectful to the person’s privacy – to better understand his or her needs and if assistance is indeed required.

In her Facebook post, Ms Sim, who is Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Development, recalled an incident that happened several years ago.

A story had circulated on social media about an elderly lady who was looking lost and hungry, and who accepted food from strangers.

The woman turned out to be one of her residents who had turned down help several times, but whose health and ability to live independently had deteriorated since.

Multiple agencies, social workers and volunteers got her to accept help and medical attention, as well as figure out a long-term care plan.

Ms Sim, who is MP for the Bukit Timah ward, said: “With a rapidly ageing population, it would certainly help to have more pairs of watchful eyes on the well-being of seniors living alone or with limited family support.

“But if there was a simple way for social agencies to be directly notified, that would be even better.”

She added: “(The Help Neighbour feature) enables concerned strangers to report their encounters with potentially vulnerable persons, including but not limited to seniors, and have these routed directly to social service agencies, without risking over-exposing the person on social media.”

She noted that this was especially relevant as some cases involve complicated family dynamics, and public exposure can mean greater pressure on already strained family relations.

Ms Sim told The Straits Times that feedback collected during the pilot saw the team refine the app, for instance, by adding the “Others” category. 

Residents will also be informed that their report is being acted on, and if the person in need is already known to agencies.

Ms Sim added that the data collected will allow the agencies to check if there are geographical concentrations or settings where vulnerable persons are most likely encountered, and facilitate better planning of outreach activities.

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