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Theresa Tan and Syarafana Shafeeq
The Straits Times
Jan 18, 2023
A 59-year-old man found dead at a void deck of a Housing Board (HDB) block in Serangoon was often seen sleeping rough there.
Mr Seah Kian Peng, who is the MP of the area, said the man was not his resident but was often seen sleeping at night at the void deck of Block 257 Serangoon Central Drive.
On Monday morning, the police were alerted to a case of unnatural death at the block. The man was pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic, said a police spokesman.
While investigations are ongoing, the police do not suspect foul play. Details of the man are not known.
Shin Min Daily News earlier reported that a cleaner smelled a stench from the man who was lying on a mattress, went to check and realised that he was dead. The cleaner informed his employer.
A couple told The Straits Times that they saw the man sleeping at the void deck of the block almost every night for the past two weeks before he was found dead.
Another resident, who wanted to be known as Madam Rosmah, said she had seen the man a few times in the estate.
The 61-year-old added: “I felt quite sad to hear about his death and how he was there for a few days before people realised he was dead. We all just assumed he was sleeping and did not want to bother him.”
Mr Seah, who is a Marine Parade GRC MP, said there is a very small number of rough sleepers in his constituency. They often have their own homes but opt to sleep on the streets for various reasons, such as family disputes.
They include a woman who chooses to sleep rough in Serangoon as it is nearer to her workplace, even though she has a home.
Mr Seah said his grassroots leaders will try to engage these people and offer help if needed. They also work with social service offices and other government agencies to follow up on these cases.
Mr Abraham Yeo, co-founder of Homeless Hearts of Singapore, whose volunteers render help, said many of those who are homeless are at higher risk of heart and other medical problems, given their poverty, poor health and nutrition.
A few years ago, the group started to partner Mount Alvernia Hospital, which provides free medical and dental care to the homeless people referred to it.
Mr Yeo said some of the homeless folk “don’t want to go to a hospital (when they are ill) as they see it as a place to die. Others may be worried they cannot afford the hospital bills”.
“So we have to assure them and take them to medical care,” he added, noting that befriending those who are homeless is vital.
The man found dead in Serangoon was the second instance of a senior whose death was detected only after neighbours or the public smelled a stench since 2023 started and which the media reported on.
On Jan 8, the police were alerted and found a 69-year-old woman lying motionless in her one-room rental flat in Aljunied. She is believed to have lived alone.
Social service agencies which work with seniors said cases of the elderly dying alone are uncommon. This is because they have set up a range of services and programmes to support and monitor vulnerable seniors, especially those who live alone.
Such services include getting befrienders, who are volunteers, and staff to check on these seniors regularly to ensure, for example, that they are well and taking their medicine.
For example, Care Corner Singapore keeps a watch-list of frail seniors with no family or little social support. Staff will monitor these seniors or get neighbours to keep an eye on them, said Ms Sharon Tang, manager of Care Corner Senior Services.
NTUC Health principal social worker Jess Ho said its teams working with the seniors will visit the vulnerable ones, such as those who are frail and have no or little family support, as often as once a week.
“They make assessments of the psycho-social care needs of seniors and devise strategies to support their physical and mental well-being and increase their coping strategies,” she added.
In 2022, NTUC Health had two seniors who died at home and their neighbours reported the death.
The Lions Befrienders comes across fewer than three such cases a year for seniors under its care.
In 2021, it started its I-ok@LB system, where a senior presses a button on a tablet at a scheduled time every day to signal that he or she is well.
If the person does not do so after a specified duration and does not respond to calls, the charity will alert next of kin, a neighbour, or send a staff member to check.
Social workers said the elderly who were found dead often repeatedly declined help or contact by staff from social service agencies.
Touch Active Ageing assistant director Wong Li Peng noted that reaching out to some seniors can be challenging as they refuse help, but it will continue trying to engage them. These seniors could also be suffering from dementia or have other health or mental health problems.
“Our staff at our active ageing centres also work alongside befrienders, volunteers, neighbours and shopkeepers, who can be our eyes and ears on the ground as they help flag cases to us,” she said.
If you encounter a rough sleeper who requires support or shelter, you can e-mail MSF_PEERSOffice@msf.gov.sg or call the ComCare hotline on 1800-222-0000.