One Saturday morning this July a one-thousand-strong army of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, armed with paint brushes and cleaning supplies, descended on a half dozen of Singapore’s neighborhoods to complete a simple mission: to clean and revitalize the homes of seniors and low-income families in need.
For the second year in a row, Habitat for Humanity’s Home Sweep Home project focused on Singapore’s rental public housing, which is reserved for citizens who earn $1,500 SGD or less per month. These flats—usually one or two rooms with a kitchen and a bathroom—tend to be in older buildings where the housing authority maintains just the stairwells, lifts, and corridors, says Shila Naidu, resource development manager for Habitat for Humanity Singapore.
“Many of these vulnerable elderly are unable to maintain decent living conditions in their homes due to either low income, low social support, or physical/mental disabilities,” Naidu says. “In fact, most homes have not been cleaned at all for years. The lack of proper sanitation in these homes have resulted in poor living conditions such as infestation of bed bugs, which causes uncomfortable sleepless nights, badly stained walls, and dirt everywhere, including in eating spaces. Consequently, the health of these homeowners declines rapidly in these conditions.”
Beyond cleaning and repainting, Home Sweep Home will also focus on helping residents with hoarding tendencies to clear out dangerous clutter, which can pose a fire hazard to not just the unit itself but the entire housing block. “We are dedicated to the rehabilitation of homes through practical means such as fumigation, cleaning, and painting,” Naidu says. “We seek to provide homeowners with the strength to live the rest of their lives with a restored sense of dignity.”
The genesis of Home Sweep Home stems from two local Habitat for Humanity initiatives: Project HomeWorks and UnLitter Red Dot. UnLitter Red Dot, Naidu says, aims to create a more civic-minded society that avoids littering. So while some volunteers will be working directly in the flats, others will focus on cleaning up litter in the surrounding neighborhoods. “Many people say Singapore is a clean city, but sadly, we are a ‘cleaned’ city with an army of sweepers and cleaners picking up after us everyday,” Naidu says.
While last year’s event led to the cleaning of 120 homes, this year Habitat for Humanity has narrowed the scope to 43 of the toughest units. “This year we wanted to be really selective and only choose homes of the usual Project HomeWorks severity,” Naidu says. “We wanted to focus on homes with real need, thus making the decision to focus on intensive cases even if the numbers look less impressive on paper. We want to make the deepest impact possible with the donor money and volunteer hours put in.”
While Habitat for Humanity continues to fine-tune Home Sweep Home, some elements remain unchanged, such as how volunteers are encouraged to interact with the homeowners. “Volunteers are asked to include the homeowner in the home cleaning process in some way, no matter how small, so as to give the homeowner a sense of ownership and agency in the entire process,” Naidu says. “The home rehabilitation process should be a partnership between volunteers and homeowner, so interaction is one way to facilitate this.”
Those interactions can go a long way toward improving the lives of seniors in need, many of whom now can sleep easy without fear of bed bugs. “Many homeowners express their heartfelt appreciation toward the volunteers for taking the time off to help rehabilitate their homes,” Naidu says. “Most importantly, most homeowners say that the newly rehabilitated home empowers them to maintain the clean conditions of their homes and to live with strength and independence.”
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