Chin Swee's elderly homeless
Last month, a 51-year-old homeless man was found dead at a Chin Swee Road HDB staircase landing. CHAI HUNG YIN and SEOW YUN RONG visit the area to learn more about the homeless there
IT WAS Christmas Eve, and the Chin Swee Road HDB estate was abuzz with activity.
People shuffled in and out of the estate, children laughed at the playground while the adults sat at a nearby coffee shop.
By 9pm, the number dwindled to around 21 people sitting and chatting next to a Sheng Siong supermarket. Some stole naps in the open to escape the heat.
Come 11pm, the merry estate changed its face.
A few elderly people, some with belongings in trash bags, moved to occupy the benches, resting their weary bodies.
These are the lonely people of Chin Swee Road.
The same scene played out on the few occasions The New Paper on Sunday team visited the estate from last month.
Some of the elderly claimed to be homeless but refused help, preferring to be on their own, even hiding from the authorities.
On Dec 9, TNPS met Mr Ang at the open space near Block 52, Chin Swee Road, around midnight.
Clad in a white shirt, knee-length shorts and sandals, he was sound asleep on a bench. Next to him was a black bag stuffed to the brim with his belongings.
The 72-year-old man, who was there on the four occasions TNPS visited the estate, says he has been homeless for more than 10 years.
But he was not the only homeless person there.
Two men, who described themselves as brothers, have been calling a secluded staircase landing their home for the past one year.
Another elderly man, regularly seen sleeping outside a row of shops near Block 52, says he has a flat to return to but prefers being outside.
Stall owners of a nearby coffee shop and supermarket staff say they are familiar with Chin Swee's lonely people.
Seafood restaurant co-owner Maxwell Zhu, 29, says: "Sometimes when I get off work between 3am and 4am, I can see people sleeping around the coffee shop or on the corridor."
Sukeman Tohfat, 67, a food stall owner at the Block 34, Pearl's Hill Road coffee shop, says: "They never change their clothes, so they smell. Sometimes they pull along a trolley of things."
BEGGING FOR FOOD
One particular man, who has been seen in the area for about three years, left an impression on Mr Sukeman.
"Sometimes, he eats leftover food on the table," he says.
"Other times, he comes looking for food. When he is hungry, he will beg for food and sometimes I will give him some instead of throwing away the unsold food.
"They are so pitiful. I'd rather give them my unsold food than to see them scavenge in the rubbish bin."
Regulars at the coffee shop would sometimes offer beer and buy food for the man who occasionally sleeps at the bus stop and washes up at the coffee shop's toilet, adds Mr Sukeman.
Drink stall worker Ooi Hau Lin, who is in his 30s, says he has often seen homeless people resting at the coffee shop at Block 34, Pearl's Hill Road, where he works the night shift.
He says in Mandarin: "We do not chase them away. They do not cause disturbance.
"They sleep with their faces down on the table. They don't line the chairs to sleep on. If they did that, we would chase them away because it would affect our business."
He has seen two to three such people who lug around their belongings wherever they go.
"They usually pull around a trolley or bags full of things," says Mr Ooi.
"There is a 90 per cent chance that they are homeless. If they lived nearby, they would not carry their things around.
"They have never come and beg for food. If they did, we would have to ask them to go away."
A sign saying there is a job vacancy for a cleaner at the coffee shop was seen on the drink stall counter.
Mr Ooi adds: "They don't come looking for jobs either. If they were willing to work, they would surely have a home."
Why Chin Swee Road estate?
Some say they have friends in the area. Others say it is because they can get free meals at the nearby Singapore Buddhist Lodge.
Few are willing to leave the area even if it means sleeping out in the open.
This is their home after all.
THE NEW PAPER
Additional reporting by Mohammed Hariz