Wednesday, 23 Sep 2020

Elderly man slept outside his one-room flat in Toa Payoh which was filled with trash, bugs

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) – When they opened the front door of the unit at Block 64 Lorong 5 Toa Payoh, volunteers from Keeping Hope Alive knew they were in for a long day.

The one-room rental flat on the ground floor was so full of trash that none of them could get inside the unit.

But there was a back door, and they entered that way. Once inside, the volunteers were greeted with an even nastier sight as they started cleaning up the place on Sunday (Sept 6).

“Big cockroaches ran out,” Ms Fion Phua, who founded the organisation, told The New Paper on Wednesday.

She added that the flat was also infested with rats.

And the smell was so bad, volunteers who donned personal protective equipment (PPE), including a mask, face shield and two layers of surgical gloves, had to apply medicinal ointment to bear with the pungent odour.

The group of about 35 volunteers worked in shifts and in groups of five – due to social distancing rules – to clean the flat.

They did it in about seven hours, throwing out more than 30 bags of trash and other items such as broken fans, bicycles and televisions.

Ms Phua, 50, said her group, which visits rental flats every Sunday, got to know the resident two weeks ago when they visited the block to help his neighbour, an elderly woman, fix a leaking tap.


The one-room rental flat on the ground floor was so full of trash that none of them could get inside the unit. PHOTO: FION PHUA

During the visit, they noticed that the elderly man, who is hard of hearing, wore dirty clothes, was barefoot and slept on sheets of cardboard along the corridor outside his flat.

Identified by Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao as Mr Chen Yongfa, 81, the man said he had no intention of hoarding junk.

Living alone in the flat for the past four years, he said he collected discarded items and sold them to make a living.

But he had to keep the items at home after Covid-19 struck as he could not sell them and was too old to clear up the clutter.

With the help of the volunteers from Keeping Hope Alive, who toiled from 8am to 3pm on Sunday, Mr Chen now has a new bed.

He told Wanbao: “Now I can finally sleep comfortably in bed and not in the company of rats and cockroaches.”

Ms Phua and her volunteers intend to visit Mr Chen again to give his now-empty flat a fresh coat of paint and also plan to help his neighbour clean her flat as well.

She said the pandemic has been tough on her volunteers.

“The difficult part is when you are wearing PPE, there is no ventilation. It is hot, humid and very hard to breathe.”

But it has been even more difficult for the elderly living alone in rental flats, especially at the beginning, she said.

“Imagine if you can’t go out, can’t have visitors, don’t have phone calls or any connections. It can be very frustrating.”

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