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Thursday April 26th 2018

Indian woman houses a homeless Chinese man during Chinese New Year

Photo of a homeless man but not the one we featured in the story

A Indian friend drops me a bombshell few days before the Chinese New Year – she has brought home a homeless 40-something man whom she spotted off Clarke Quay MRT area.

I was abit worried for her as this friend lives alone in a 3-room flat at Bedok and I will feel bad if anything amiss happened to her but so far there has being no incident during his short stay at her place. I later found out that she knew the person but didn’t get to meet for at least a decade so its like housing your friend for a few days in the guest room. But how many Singaporeans will dare to house someone who sleeps in the street especially if the person is a stranger?

Nothing feels worse than having to sleep in the open during the Chinese new year and many homeless people we met felt doubly depressed during the festive period.

Singaporeans are not like our overseas friends we met abroad who are used to house friends dropping by for a few days sometimes even up to several weeks. When I went to Lebanon for my humanitarian trips, people there tend to invite me to their home and living with them is almost second nature.

When it was too late to go back to my own rental house which is very far away, I would live with a doctor sometimes for a few days at a stretch while carrying out my humanitarian tasks before going back to my own place in the city. This went on for almost two months on a fortnight basis and they treated you like one of their own.

The same could not be say of Singaporeans but perhaps our limited lodging allowance and jealous guard of our own personal space are factors which contributed to our less-hospitable gesture towards guests/friends who may need a place to bunk in for a while.

My friend told me later that she housed him for a few days only before politely asking him to leave as she has things to attend to and won’t be around for a while in Singapore. During that few days over Chinese New Year while he was asked to leave, he shows up at her place once only to show her a swollen right foot which requires medical attention and have never return back since to disturb her.

The homeless man’s father also dropped by her place to soothe things out with the younger son. He continues to live outside at Bedok Central during the past few days after he left my friend’s place. He has being homeless for almost three weeks after a long while away from Singapore – seven years to be exact.

I was intrigued to meet up with this homeless man (Edmund) at Chinatown yesterday and he looks young for his age though the severe eye-bag betrays nights of interrupted sleep out in the open. Our frequent contacts with the homeless over the past few months have being largely confined to the one-off rendevous meeting of handing out blankets and goody bags and we hardly have a chance to talk to them on  a more personalised level.

So getting up real close and personal with a homeless man is something which I revelled.

His right swollen foot is tormenting him and we spent a large part of our conversation focusing on the problem – it must have being a huge thorn in the flesh for this stocky 5 ft 7 homeless man who speaks reasonably good English.

” It is affecting my sleep and it is painful especially if I need to walk a long distance,” he lamented. He used a walking stick now and limped practically on one foot when we journeyed a short distance to meet up with his parents later for dinner after our 2-hour long chat.

The cheaper TCM treatment doesn’t help him much to bring down the swell and the next specialist appointment after meeting with a doctor in a polyclinic is in July! His next best medical choice is to go to the A & E which will be costly.

After hearing Edmund’s story, you feel like wanting to put it up in a novel as it is full of drama.

He just returned from China late last year after over-staying for close to six years. He lost his business there and all his personal documents and the Chinese immigration fined him a massive 10,000 yuan (SGD $2000) for over-staying.

Penniless and lost, he found lodging solace in the Macdonald in China after spending all his money on food and motels during a very rough spell. His brother later bailed him out by transferring the fine money over but would not want him back in the home which is shared with his ageing parents.

He has no choice but to sleep in the streets after a day or two of bunking in with friends.

“I stay with a friend for only a night before leaving as you don’t feel welcomed at all after the icy stares you get from his family members,” he confided in me.

He goes to a temple off River Valley frequently for free meals and live off the streets at Bedok during the evening. He bathes in public tiolets and place his clothings with a friend carrying whatever essential personal stuff in a haversack.

“What are your plans now?” I asked him towards the end of our 2-hour chat of which he talks alot about his swollen right foot.

He pointed naturally at the foot while he grimaced and it looks like an elephant foot with all the visible swell.

He says the initial A & E admission charge is $120 and with X-ray and medication throws in the final bill could be close to $300.

I left Edmund after meeting up briefly with his parents while he saw them up for dinner in a Chinatown hawker centre. I am glad that at least he is not cut off from his parents though the cold war with his brother still continues.

The meeting with Edmund was a bitter-sweet experience and it shows how easy it is for anyone in Singapore to live in the streets when things go south not by choice but more by circumstances.

For those renting a place outside, a loss of employment means we will be hanging by the thread if we could not pay up the rent on-time as most landlords are not so understanding as to allow the person to get a job first before paying up. Suffice to say, those who rent a room or apartment outside must have exhausted all other neccessary government housing aid before deciding to pay a hefty sum for a place outside.

Most HDB common rooms go for a mininum of $500/month with some going for at least $700 if it is in a prime area complete with aircon and furnishing.

We have also met up with a Malay divorcee last year who has lost his job and ended up sleeping in a Geylang carpark for almost three months before picking up again after he found another job. He is now renting a place and life is back to normal again.

Many also lost their home after a bitter divorce and as some settlement involves handing over a large amount of maintenance one-off, some men eventually ended up penniless and homeless of course.

Others could not get along with their stranger co-owner of a government’s subsidised flat and ended up on their own in the street though their name is still officially on the rental flat ownership.

We also found out that though some homeless people we met are working, the salary is often insufficient to rent a place outside and they have no choice but to sleep out in the open so that at least their income is kept intact else they may have to part off half or more of the salary just for rent.  Many rather sacrifice a roof over their heard than end up penniless after paying the hefty rent.

Free housing shelters are inadequate and many homeless folks are also avoiding them due to their strict rules and regulations with many saying that it is like a prison with high security and guards.

A visit to a sheltered home at Pembusu off Sengkang recently confirms the speculation that it is more like a prison for rehabilitation than a temporary free housing for the destitute. Freedom to move around is curtailed and you need to surrender your identity card there before they will home you.

Though some people are able to book out and work in low-incomed labourious jobs such as cleaners and book in to sleep in such free shelters, the numbers doing so are in the low percentage perhaps due to the poor mental health of the inmates living there.

As low-incomed Singaporeans struggle with the high cost of living, we envisage that more people will end up on the street. By now, our rough estimate is that 1000 people are living off the street with many of them comprising elderly men who are very unemployable due to their age and poor health.

Unless the government plans something concrete to tackle this growing housing problem, the homelessness issue will be a potential explosive social item during election in time to come for sure.

And as for the young homeless man Edmund, his best bet is to get the foot treated first and slowly look for employment to get his life back to normal again. He is already at zero level ground now and anything he does to improve his situation can only be positive.

There is nothing much that he can get any more lower…

Written by: Gilbert Goh

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2 Responses to “Indian woman houses a homeless Chinese man during Chinese New Year”

  1. William Toh says:

    Crowd funding for one off medical treatment for this young 40 to get back to his feet. He can then go to Manpower for help in getting a job that suit his experiences working in China. He had given at least 2 years of his youth and at least 10 years for reservist trainings to serve National Service as Singaporean. The cold selfish political leadership can’t just ignored it for if it continues, expect NSmen to do the examples they had set in peace time.

  2. Concerned Singaporean says:

    Pro Alien Party will help and give taxpayer monies to FTs but not to Singaporean and PMETs.

    Party Against People motto:

    Tax Singaporean, Give money to FTs (i.e.: scholarship to FTs)

    Jobs for FTs, Slavery for Singaporean

    No canning for FTs, Canning for Singaporean

    This is the burden of Singaporean placed by Party Against People.

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