Last Updated on 2023-05-05 , 2:05 pm
82-year-old Mr Yip Woon Cheong is currently “homeless” and lives in a void deck under the rental block of Block 26 in Sin Ming.
Mr Yip had been a People’s Action Party (PAP) member and used to work for the Public Utilities Board (PUB) for 30 years before working as a part-time cleaner until he was 60 years old.
He claimed to have stopped working because people told him he couldn’t work anymore due to his visual and auditory issues.
He moved out of Block 26 in July 2022 after residents were made to relocate. He started living on the void deck under the block as his previous unit had a broken fan, and the stifling heat was too much for him to bear.
Units Were Emptied Some Time Ago
Block 26 was home to numerous residents who lived in the quiet industrial area for many years.
However, in July 2022, all the residents were relocated to rental blocks in Bendemeer and other areas of Sin Ming, and by September of the same year, the relocation was completed.
Of the 300 residents living in Block 26, 130 were low-income elderly people. Marymount Member of Parliament (MP) Mr Gan Siow Huang highlighted that the relocation would offer better facilities to the residents as Block 26 was an old development.
CHF contributed more than $165,000 to support the residents, which included purchasing furniture and appliances for their new homes. CapitaLand staff and tenant volunteers also assisted senior residents in packing, relocating, and buying other necessary home essentials.
Reasons for Living in a Void Deck
According to Lianhe Zaobao, Mr Yip had lived in Block 26 for four years and only started living in the void deck after the building was set for redevelopment. He used to own a house but sold it after his divorce.
Although he has three children, he claimed his daughter’s whereabouts were unknown, and his two sons rarely visited him. Consequently, he had to rely solely on the government’s financial assistance of about $100 per month.
Mr Yip was brought up by his adoptive mother and had no siblings, making him self-reliant. As such, he did not blame his children for neglecting him and had even been homeless for some time.
Later, after living with his friends for a few years, he moved into the rental flats at Block 26 with the assistance of an MP in 2019.
Despite living in the void deck, which may not be comfortable for most, Mr Yip enjoys the space as it is cool and devoid of any disturbances. Furthermore, he frequently receives welfare support, biscuits, and snacks from volunteers and kind-hearted individuals.
Currently, Mr Yip sleeps on a bench covered in paper, with several boxes, clothes and a few water barrels nearby. His meals mostly consist of biscuits and water, and he takes showers daily at the public toilet under the block.
Not the First Case of “Homeless” Elderly
There have been more cases of homeless individuals recently, with elderly members more susceptible to harm when homeless.
Only three months ago, a 59-year-old man was discovered dead at the void deck of an HDB block in Serangoon on 18 January 2023. Although the man was not a block resident, he was often seen sleeping at the void deck of Block 257 Serangoon Central Drive.
Marine Parade GRC’s MP, Mr Seah Kian Peng, explained that while a small number, individuals who sleep in void decks often already have somewhere to live but choose to sleep on the streets for various reasons, such as family disputes.
He gave an example of a woman who prefers to sleep rough in Serangoon as it is closer to her workplace, despite having a home.
According to Mr Abraham Yeo, the co-founder of Homeless Hearts of Singapore, an organisation that assists the homeless in re-integrating into society, elderly individuals who are homeless or sleep away from their homes are more prone to heart and other medical problems due to their poverty, poor health, and nutrition.
As a result, Mr Seah emphasised that grassroots leaders are attempting to engage with these people and provide assistance if necessary. They also collaborate with social service offices and other government agencies to monitor these cases.
Will be Moving Into a New Rental Flat
Mr Yip is soon scheduled to graduate from his current squalid living conditions and will move into a new rental flat by the end of April 2023.
Volunteers and Mr Gan have worked with him to secure a rental unit since last November 2022.
Despite being notified, Mr Yip has only started moving his belongings now, claiming that he had accumulated too many things to move alone. He also stated that he wanted to avoid bothering his friends to help move the bulk of his belongings.
According to Ms Wong Li Peng, the assistant director of TOUCH Active Ageing, it can be difficult to reach out to seniors like Mr Yip as they may refuse assistance when offered.
Ms Wong noted that more stubborn seniors might suffer from dementia or other health and mental health problems.
To monitor frail seniors with little social support or no family, Care Corner Singapore engages their staff and neighbours to keep a watchful eye on them.
Ms Jess Ho, the principal social worker of NTUC Health, stated that their teams visit such seniors at least once a week to assess their psycho-social care needs and develop strategies to support their physical and mental well-being while enhancing their coping strategies.
While various social service agencies regularly provide resources and measures, elderly people may still be found sleeping rough due to factors beyond the control of these agencies.
Therefore, citizens who encounter a rough sleeper or a homeless elderly person needing support or shelter can email [email protected] or call the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000.
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