Singapore, Nov. 14 -- It was a sight I would never forget. A woman in her 30s, her baby in a pram and her elderly mother sleeping on a bench in a public toilet at East Coast Park.

This was in 2007.

The first shelter for homeless families had just opened, at a time when help services for the homeless were still in their infancy. In fact, the opening of the shelter was a hush-hush affair and the issue of homelessness was under the public radar. My colleague and I spent several nights pounding the streets, looking for homeless people to interview.

The women sleeping on the bench had been homeless for five years. Their woes started when the younger woman's husband lost his cleaning job. They had to sell their flat and lived with various r...