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Longing for Home is a series of chats over coffee, where NOST sits down with women to find out what home means to them. Regina shares her personal journey of how she came to befriend the homeless over the past eight years, what her anchors of a true home are, and about the Open Home she has created for homeless uncles to find safe, nourishing family time among friends.
What was home like for you?
I come from a home that’s not very stable, so it was difficult for me to relax and feel safe. I didn’t have good relationships with my family, and the situation at home was tense everyday. We didn’t sit down to eat meals together and everyone was always hanging out in their own room. It felt like a hotel… we would even eat our reunion dinners (a Chinese New Year tradition of celebrating with families) separately.
How did you begin to uncover home for yourself?
Being from a childhood home that wasn’t very secure, I really desired to have my own home. I would walk around housing estates and wish I had my own flat so that I could create a happy home. But that was out of my reach and I went through a period of depression because of this.
At one point, I hit rock bottom in my personal life and work life. I was burnt out and took a year long break to focus on healing. The turnaround in my life came while I was in a garden at a retreat centre. Three days into my stay, I realised that I felt strangely at home. I thought, Why do I feel this way about a place that’s not my home? When I reflected on this with a mentor, she asked me, “What are the things about it that make you feel like it’s home? What are the anchors that you need to create home?”
So you discovered these anchors that define home for you?
Yes, having these anchors really helps me to create home anywhere I go, even if I’m in India or Japan, or live in a rented place. That was very freeing for me, especially since the nature of my work is nomadic, and answered a lot of questions that ended my false quest for a physical home. Sometimes you may have the nicest house, with a sauna and have everything all sleek, but without these anchors, you won’t feel at home either.
What are these anchors?
I realised that the retreat place had these things: a sense of beauty all around, both in nature and in the decor. There were good relationships—a community where I’m not alone or isolated in the house. I had the freedom to have deep conversations, be vulnerable, share my thoughts and be listened to. There's also the element of creativity in a home. At the retreat centre there was space for me to do watercolor painting, practice calligraphy and take photos. A home to me needs all these elements.
Home to me is a place for me where I can do nothing, reflect and chill. I don’t have to strive to produce; I could just be rather than do. The being is more important than the doing.
Home to me is a place for me where I can do nothing, reflect and chill. I don’t have to strive to produce; I could just be rather than do.
Do you think these anchors are unique to each individual or universal?
Everyone has their personal needs and values, so these anchors will differ from person to person. We need to reflect on what these things are, so that we can meet these needs and feel more fulfilled.
While these individual anchors vary, do you believe there’s a true home?
Yes, of course! True home is finding unconditional acceptance from a loved one, and knowing that you are not going through life alone. You may not have many close friends, but all we need is that one person who unconditionally loves and accepts us, with whom we can be free to present all our rubbish—good and bad—and still be accepted and embraced. For me, I find this true home in my faith in God, not a human person.
How did you start to befriend the homeless?
One Christmas in 2011, I wasn’t invited to any Christmas gathering by my groups of friends. It just happened that I was overlooked and fell through the cracks that year. So I ended up having nothing to do on Christmas eve, and felt quite lonely and rejected.
Through that, God showed me the heart of a person who is left on the outside, who is often not invited or included. I began to think about people who are on the outside of all these festivities and celebrations, and who may feel forgotten. Having read online recently that there were homeless people in Singapore (it wasn’t widely known about back in 2011), I decided to look for them. So I bought some gifts and packed them in a small trolley. A few friends decided to join me.
We went out late at night on Christmas eve. We walked to a wholesale market that has since been torn down. The market was dark, since it was closed. But when we went in, we saw a whole row of about 20 old men, all asleep on cardboard boxes on the floor. I was shocked that there were so many of them. We started talking to them and gave out gifts, until we ran out! So we told them we would come back next week with more.
We were especially shocked to spot a young teenage girl sleeping there too. The three of us kept asking each other later that week, “When are we going back to visit the uncles? Who was that girl sleeping there? Why was she there?” We just couldn’t get our minds off the people we met. So we went back the next week, and the week after that.
It took at least six months of weekly visits for them to feel that they could trust us as friends who didn’t have an agenda. We got to know them and found out the girl was actually pregnant. We brought milo and biscuits each time, just wanting to hear their stories and be listening ears. Many of them felt so oppressed because they went through injustice, had all these emotions yet didn’t have anyone listen to them. They had no one to talk to. But they were really just people like us who are broken, and who just need friends and relationships. I think they found that in us.
The true home is finding unconditional acceptance from a loved one, and knowing that you are not alone. You’re not going through life alone.
Could you share with us about this Open Home you are in now?
This home near the red light district was given to us for marginalised people, many of whom the world has given up on. They are told that there’s no hope for them, no second chance. Or, for those who are disabled, that they can’t do anything. But we believe there is a full life available for these people. We hope that this home can be a place where we can have conversations about that, where friends can come alongside to uplift them in their brokenness. We want them to know that people have not given up on them; they can dream again and make steps towards a new life.
Homelessness is a state of the heart and a poverty of relationships. All our homeless friends have family problems and that’s why they are on the streets. The real need is to restore their ability to have relationships, how they see family, and, since most of the homeless are men, how they see themselves as men, fathers, husbands. As women we have a part to play in encouraging the men to rise up to protect, respect, and love women in a healthy way.
Homelessness is a state of the heart and a poverty of relationships.
How does this Home function?
We designed this place for family life, where the marginalized can experience being in a safe healthy family by having meals, sharing deep conversations, doing chores and cleaning up together. We hope that through this everyone can feel a sense of belonging, where they are not guests but real family members.
The regulars are the homeless—they come in to rest, look at the garden, have meals, chat, pray, watch a video. We have children at risk who come here to swim, do crafts and various activities, and eat. They really like the tea times here, and always ask for more snacks. We also have those working and living in the red light district coming here for a respite.
This is also an inviting space for like-minded friends who work amongst the marginalised to gather. Many of them just need a place to rest, quietly reflect, discuss and support one another.
What are your dreams personally, and for the homeless?
My dream is to first be a person who is able to bring healing to the broken, especially in my relationships with people. I hope to set up places of refuge amongst the most forgotten and marginalised in Singapore and in other nations. I hope that these homes of healing can foster families who embrace the broken, and allow people to find the healing they need.
Photography by: @hannah.piranha