The first thing that needs to be said about Liyana Dhamirah’s memoir Homeless is that it is so very, very important. It sheds light on an issue in our society that has always been pushed into the dark, it encourages a conversation that even the most progressive of us sometimes overlook, and it does all of this with a tremendous amount of heart.
Homeless follows Liyana’s more-than-ten-year journey from a bright and cheery student to a pregnant twenty-two-year-old living out of a tent in Sembawang Park, and what she’s made of her life since. It’s a brutally honest story that, at times, made me absolutely furious—whether it was the cold bureaucracy she had to face or the emotional turmoil she was put through by people who were supposed to be her family. The fact that Liyana comes across as someone genuinely loving with an unwavering sense of determination makes those moments all the more infuriating.
And that’s a good thing. You should be getting angry when you read this book. You should find yourself saying things like, “I can’t believe this is happening in Singapore,” out loud.
Liyana is the perfect person to bring this topic out into the open, not just because of her experiences, but because her style is conversational, welcoming and warm. (I’m sure a fair amount of credit for this goes to her collaborators Manisha Dhalani and Khai Anwar too.) You get to truly know her like a friend and, even if you don’t agree with some of her decisions, you certainly empathise with her.
The only criticism I have is that we don’t see enough of her life in Sembawang Park, in relation to everything that led up to it. I think a deeper look into the day-to-day life of the ‘residents’ that had made the park their kampung would reinforce the book’s already powerful message.
That said, I think it says a lot that my biggest concern with Homeless is that I wanted more. It’s a quick, yet solid read, which I think deserves wider recognition.
by Wayne Rée
The testy, 40-year-old grouch in me feels that Homeless should be prescribed reading material for millennials today, especially the ones who whinge about how difficult their lives are (😹). I picked up the book as I was intrigued as to how an eloquent and obviously intelligent young woman like Liyana could end up sleeping in a tent amongst a community of homeless people at Sembawang Park. I breezed through her highly readable account in a matter of hours.
What stood out for me in Liyana’s story was her courage and grit despite all the curve balls that life threw her way. As a child, she had to grow up quickly and care for her siblings when her parents were divorced and her mother became the sole breadwinner. As a naive and impressionable teenager, she became a victim of rape and ended up marrying her first boyfriend when she became pregnant. Life did not get any easier for Liyana as a newly-wed as her husband was unfaithful to her. The pair were chased out of the flat by her mother-in-law on Hari Raya, leaving them with no choice but to live in a tent at Sembawang Park.
Despite circumstances, Liyana was a hard worker who was well-liked by all her bosses and took great pride in her work. Unfortunately, she had to give up her job when she had to care for her two boys and when she became pregnant for the third time. Even after her circumstances had improved considerably and she moved into a rental flat, Liyana continued trying her hand at several business ventures, refusing to be daunted when most of them came to naught. Today, she is happily married to a man who truly loves her and runs her own online business called Virtual Assistants Singapore. She also continues to sell handicrafts and cake pops.
Liyana’s story needs to be told so that we can give a voice to those society have forgotten, so that they can become real to us rather than remain as nameless statistics. Her account also serves to remind us that there are good people around like Ravi and Andrew from The Online Citizen who wrote to the relevant MPs about Liyana’s plight and brought her story to light.
For me, homelessness was an option - our only option at the time. And we even got used to it.
The residents of Sembawang Park altered our outlook on life. We learnt to be kind and friendly to everyone as we were all fighting our own battles... Living here, I learnt more about compassion, second chances and survival in their first four weeks at the beach than I had in all the years before.
by Dawn Tan