Plight of 'homeless' woman in Bedok captures netizens' attention

An elderly rag-and-bone woman found to be living and sleeping along the HDB corridors of Bedok North and thought to have been homeless has been revealed to be a "hoarder".

The plight of the 62-year-old woman, known as Auntie Koh, first came to light after a photo of her desperate situation were posted on by a 19-year-old National Serviceman Ivan Loh and shared on Facebook by civil volunteer group EDMW on Tuesday.

Loh, who stayed at the same Block 419, even invited her to take a shower at his house, before asking on Facebook what more could be done to help the "karang guni" lady.

When Yahoo! Singapore visited the said block on Tuesday evening, Auntie Koh was at the void deck speaking to other civic-minded Singaporeans who had come forward to offer help.

Speaking in fluent Mandarin peppered with idiomatic expressions, the elderly lady said she was kept out of her house because of items she had collected over the years.

"I pick up things like cardboards, refrigerators and keep them at home because I know I can sell them in the future. But around last year, some things fell and blocked my front door, that's why I can't go home," said Auntie Koh, who is not married.

"And I don't want to involve the police or SCDF to help me unlock my door and move things. I'm afraid of them," she added.

Out of control

When Loh asked if she would move back home if he helped unlock her door and sell some items she has kept at home, Auntie Koh repeatedly said "no". She skirted around the question and stubbornly said that those items wouldn't sell because of bad blood with a scraps collector business owner.

Her dispute with neighbours also made matters worse when her hoarding habits grew out of control as junk spilled out of her home into the common corridor.

Auntie Koh also declined help when volunteers said they could try to help her mend the problems between her and her neighbour. She said she wouldn't be able to return home and sleep in her house peacefully, and added that one neighbour would knock on her door relentlessly to disturb her.

"I'd rather sleep outside. If he knows I'm home, he'll find trouble with me," she said.

"My neighbours look down on my because I pick up scraps. People avoid taking the lift with me because they think I'm smelly," she added.

Auntie Koh recounted incidents where she found cups of yellow liquid thinking that somebody has bought her tea but found out that it was actually urine. Clothes that were hanging outside were also burned by cigarette butts.

Being locked out of her house, she now sleeps on the stairs of block 419 and travels around with a shopping trolley full of her belongings.

Living on scraps

Suffering from bad eyesight from cataracts, urinary incontinence and frequent abdominal pains, she manages by collecting scraps and selling it and without any aid. The little money she earns goes to buying adult diapers, utility bills and other miscellaneous expenses. Formerly a Chinese private tutor, Auntie Koh has little funds in her Central Provident Fund (CPF) account.

When asked what sort of help she needs, Auntie Koh said she hopes the government or town council can build her a store room in the void deck to keep her items. And also to get some aid from the Community Development Council (CDC) so that she can stop picking up scraps.

She also hopes to sell her current flat and rent a flat from the government instead but lost her title deed.

"I was told it cost $4,000 to get a replacement. Where am I going to find the money to pay for that?" she said.

"The government told me I was not eligible to get a rented flat and suggested that I get a studio apartment for elderly," she added.

Government help

Her situation captivated the attention of netizens, the majority of whom were quick to criticise the government and her Member of Parliament for not coming forward to help.

But her MP Lee Yi Shyan clarified in a Facebook post later on Tuesday that Koh had indeed sought his help and that of her other MPs in the Bedok GRC over the past four years.

The Minister of State clarified that she was not "homeless" and that she actually owned a fully-paid three-room flat at the same block, but that it was so cluttered with junk due to her  compulsive "hoarding" that she could no longer live in her own home.

Her dispute with neighbours had also triggered several rounds of mediation by government agencies.

The MP added that over the past four years, Koh had received food vouchers and financial assistance from grassroots agencies and CDC but at the same time, she had insisted on being self-reliant.

Meanwhile, volunteer Loh said he'll continue to help Auntie Koh in any way he can but hopes the government can do more to help special case like her who've slipped through the cracks of available help schemes.

"Yes they've offered help but it seems like because it's a difficult and complex case, they gave up. I feel that they should try harder and do more," Loh said.

(Additional reporting by Rahimah Rashith, Elizabeth Soh)

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