I am aware about the countless homeless elderly people in Singapore, either abandoned by their own children or having no children as they had worked past their prime to settle down. They have no one to support them at their old age and their hard-earned savings dwindled from the increasing cost of living. The situation is getting more common than anyone of us would like to admit but one quiet morning upon seeing an old man sleeping overnight at a bus stop just got me into some deep thinking. As our society progresses while we grow older each day, will we become unable to catch up with the fast progresses even though we are able to do so now, will we be eventually left behind to our own devices and to be forgotten by everyone else? Will our savings hold out?
Today as the standard of living is rising rapidly, more and more people are finding it tougher to make ends meet these days and the current high-cost of property / living situation does trigger a sense of fear and hopelessness about the future for some people.
Singapore was not built into a modern community within a single day as well are all aware of that. What we are seeing today is the hardship and labour of our elders after so many decades. Singaporeans today are reaping the bountiful fruits of their labour and they should not repay them with disregard and disrespect. We simply cannot take them for granted. However, some people still choose to abandon or neglect them just because they are unable to contribute to the society much. There are some helpess elders out there who still live below the poverty line and do ‘lowly’ jobs just to make ends meet.
I made some recent photography trips down to some of the remaining old HDB one-room rental flats at Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah View in Singapore where most of these units are being leased out to elderly homeless people. While these old one-room HDB flats in the past used to house mainly low-income families, most of them are now occupied by lonely old people who are either single, lost their spouse or whose children had moved out after marriage. Being old and some with chronic illness, obviously keeping the house clean and spunky would be the least important concern for these poor folks. So it is not surprising to pass by some units that have a musky smell.
The Henderson Senior Citizens' Home (HSCH) is one of two homes for the elderly that are housed in an old HDB block at Bukit Merah View in Singapore. The other operator, the Asian Women's Welfare Association (AWWA), runs the AWWA Community Home in Ang Mo Kio. This sheltered home for the elderly has 72 one-room units on the second, third and fourth storeys of Block 123 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6.
Both homes have much in common. They both operate out of one-room rental flats. Elderly residents live in groups or by themselves and pay a monthly fee to the homes, ranging from $40 to $400 depending on the level of their finances. A number of them are on the public assistance scheme.
Some of the old people are referred by hospitals, while others approached the homes themselves or with their families. And some others are actually homeless.
"Ageing in place" is a concept in Singapore that has different interpretations. For some, it refers to the elderly being able to live in the community in their own homes without ever having to move while for others, it involves a move to a community home, such as assisted living facilities or continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) that provide for the changing health and housing needs over time.
All of these old one-room HDB flats come with an emergency alarm system in each unit and the service centre monitors these alarms very closely when any elderly person staying an unit raises the alarm for help. This service is free for all the old HDB one-room units at Blk 123 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6.
Residents can help to watch out for one another, aided by digital panels at every lift lobby that flash the unit number of the one where help is needed.
A typical double loaded arrangement of the one-room HDB block. The long corridor leads us to units facing each other. High-level slits on the wall provided ventilation for tenants inside. Some lights along the corridor are switched on even in the day time. Otherwise, the unlit corridors look a bit intimidating to walk through.
These one-room HDB flats are known popularly as 一房半厅. Many of these one-room flats used to house extended families of 6 to 8 occupants. To create some privacy, often plywood planks or a simple drawn curtain would be used to partition the space.
We should pity the old folks who live alone in HDB flats, working hard to even pay for a meal. Compared to that its much better to live in a shelter home where you can interact with the other old folks.
Singapore’s conceptualisation of ageing in place involves developing strong social networks involving families and friends and providing care and social services so that the elderly can continue to live in the community for as long as possible without institutionalisation. 'Ageing-in-place’ refers to growing old in the home, community and environment that one is familiar with, with minimal change or disruption to one’s lives and activities. This is to promote social integration where the needs of seniors can be met within the community, rather than to segregate them as a distinct and separate population.
The Henderson Senior Citizens' Home (HSCH) takes up the entire floor above the void deck of Block 117 Bukit Merah View. It has 20 one-room units.
Same goes for all of these old HDB one-room flats at the three Bukit Merah View Blocks (Block 117, 121 and 123) that come with an emergency alarm system in each unit and the service centre monitors these alarms very closely when any elderly person staying an unit raises the alarm for help.
Nowadays these one-room HDB flats have mostly been upgraded with floor-to-floor lifts.
The homes are retrofitted to be elderly-friendly: Corridors have railings to aid the elderly in walking and some of the units have been modified. Independent living is encouraged.
In both homes, help is given to residents who have become less mobile or need assistance with tasks such as getting food.
I took pride when documentating these photographs of old Singapore. I was reminded that all of us should be aware that it is our parents who raised and helped us to become what we are today. We ought to feel very grateful. I hope none of you will view the elderly as a burden. There are really a lot of them either live separately from their families or being left in the care of nursing homes or hospice for whatever reason. Some even still live in the streets. Though there is no guarantee as to what will happen in the future, what we can do it is not to forget about these old people and try to help them in whatever we can, since we, the younger generation has more access to information and knowledge to help to lower the chances of our own fate ending as such.
These old one-room HDB flats had also fulfilled Singapore intended mission of providing affordable housing for hundreds of thousands of locals. Sadly the remnant few are fast disappearing. The collective memories of a generation of young Singaporean born in the 60s and 70s who used to spend their childhood in these one-room flat HDB would also fade away slowly with their obliteration.