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Ex-convict goes from prison to the streets

NOWHERE TO GO: After his release from Changi Prison, former carpenter Kuu found himself homeless, as his one-room rental flat in Toa Payoh had been occupied by another family. The 68-year-old has little choice but to sleep in public areas.


    Mar 25, 2014

    Ex-convict goes from prison to the streets

    RELEASED from Changi Prison after serving nearly three years for setting a man ablaze, he went home on Feb 16 - and found himself homeless.

    Mr Kuu Siau Lam's one-room rental flat in Toa Payoh was occupied by another family. The 68-year-old was furious.

    The flat had been recovered and reallocated by the Housing Board when he was serving his sentence.

    All his furniture, electrical appliances and belongings were no longer there. His passport, birth certificate and other documents were also gone.

    Around $6,000 worth of items had been left in the flat before he went to jail, he claimed.

    Among the missing items: Two refrigerators, a 32-inch LCD TV, an electric bicycle and the power tools he used when he worked as a carpenter back then.

    The HDB had, in repossessing the flat, removed and disposed of the items.

    In 2011, Mr Kuu set his colleague on fire with thinner and a lighter after a spat in their workshop. His co-worker, Mr Kee Yau Chong, suffered burns to more than 28 per cent of his body, including his face, body and arms.

    Mr Kuu was sentenced to four years' jail. Six months into his jail term, with the help of prison officers, he wrote a letter to HDB, saying he wanted to keep his flat and belongings.

    But HDB, in a letter, rejected his request, he said.

    Said Mr Kuu in Mandarin: "I've already served my sentence for my crime. I've done my time. So why am I being punished again?"

    On the night of his release on Feb 16, he slept on a deckchair outside a public toilet in Toa Payoh.

    With no job and no home to return to, he told The New Paper (TNP): "There is no hope left."

    His carpenter job paid him about $800 a month. Most of his savings have been used up.

    He now lives on around $300 given to him monthly by the Social Services Office in Toa Payoh. He has no family or relatives.

    Mr Kuu approached his friend, freelance contractor Paul Thanabal, 60, who lives nearby in another rental flat, for help.

    Together, they went to HDB to try and recover his belongings on March 14. But all they got back were his documents, passport and a box of old photographs.

    When contacted, an HDB spokesman confirmed that it had repossessed his rental flat and "reallocated it to a needy household" in March 2012 - 10 months after his arrest.

    The spokesman said that HDB would first contact the next-of-kin to claim the tenant's belongings.

    If none is found after six months, HDB would proceed to recover the rental flat in the presence of a third party.

    A list of the belongings in the flat would be drawn up and items such as NRIC, passports and other valuables would be handed over to police.

    "We are unable to store other household items as the storage will incur public funds," said the HDB spokesman.

    Two Members of Parliament TNP spoke to said HDB should have made special arrangements with Mr Kuu before disposing of his possessions.

    MP for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng said: "There should have been a better way to handle this case.

    "With voluntary welfare organisations, family service centres or grassroots members, collectively speaking, something can be arranged, even if the items are really bulky."

    MP for Jurong GRC Ang Wei Neng said HDB should have communicated more with Mr Kuu regarding his belongings before deciding to discard them.

    Said Mr Ang: "HDB should have asked if there (is a need to) dispose of his belongings, and it could have asked him what he intended to do with his belongings while he was in prison."

    Mr Kuu's former MP, Mr Hri Kumar Nair of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, wrote a letter to HDB to help him with the flat issue.