Thursday, 10 January 2013

'Homeless' woman owns three-room flat: Online forum EDMW told

TODAY, 9 Jan 2013

Member of Parliament for East Coast Group Representation Constituency Lee Yi Shyan has given details of the personal circumstances of one of his constituents after claims by an online forum that she was unfairly treated by government bodies generated numerous negative comments.

Writing on his Facebook page yesterday, Mr Lee, who is Minister of State (Trade and Industry and National Development), questioned the forum's description of East Coast resident Koh Rei Jeng as "poor" and "homeless".

Among other things, the forum claimed that town council officials allegedly confiscated Ms Koh's possessions, and that she sleeps along the corridor and eats leftover scraps.

Mr Lee revealed that Ms Koh is the owner of a fully-paid-for three-room flat, adding that the 62-year-old rag-and-bone collector has rejected direct financial help because she "is able to earn enough to maintain herself and pay most of her bills most of the time".

He added that many agencies have helped her over the last four years. For example, the South East Community Development Council provides her with food vouchers monthly and has paid her utilities bill on a few occasions, he noted.

"The only problem Ms Koh has is that she ran out of place to store her collection of discarded items," wrote Mr Lee.

He pointed out that these items have spilled onto the common corridor because Ms Koh's flat has been piled full, causing concerns among her neighbours of fire safety and obstruction.

Mr Lee added that East Coast Town Council has spoken to Ms Koh about the matter "many times", even offering her a temporary storeroom for six months and buying some of the items. But the problem has not been resolved, he said.

"I thought these brief facts will perhaps help our readers establish a clear picture of what it is and what is not," said Mr Lee.

Noting that those concerned about the well-being of needy Singaporeans, like Ms Koh, can help this group "in a direct and tangible way" at Meet-the-People Sessions, he ended the post thus: "But I also need to convince her to clear out her clutter in her flat. She deserves no better place than her own home to shower, eat and sleep. Would you help?"

They burn holes in my clothes
Karung guni claims her neighbours sabotage her belongings, but they say otherwise
By Rennie Whang, The New Paper, 11 Jan 2013

The post which appeared on the Eat Drink Man Woman Facebook page said the karung guni woman was homeless, living outside the flat her foster parents once occupied.

A neighbour would use his cigarette to burn holes in clothes which she kept outside the flat, the post said, adding that she subsists on leftovers from others.

When The New Paper met the woman, Ms Koh Rei Jeng, 62, yesterday, she said she owns a three-room flat in Block 419, Bedok North Street 1, but that she feared going home because of her neighbours.

One of them once left a drink container at her doorstep which she thought was chrysanthemum tea, but turned out to be urine, she claimed.

She added that they also sabotaged her belongings- one neighbour snaps the heels off shoes, rendering them unsellable.

When she kept a piece of luggage outside the flat, he took a knife to it, she added.

But her neighbours painted a different picture of her situation. They said she was protective of her possessions and was a habitual hoarder.

The flat holds too many items for her to sleep inside and so she sleeps at her door, they said, adding that they had never touched her items.

Even though the town council clears the area outside her flat every two or three months, the mess comes back, said a neighbour who gave her name as Madam Chew. She said this has happened about four times.

"It's not easy talking to her. When I told her there were rats among her things, she said the rats took the lift to our floor," said the sales executive in her 40s.

She pointed to two shopping carts holding plastic containers outside Ms Koh's flat.

Ms Koh keeps another cart, filled with more containers, plastic bags and clothes, with her.

Another neighbour who wanted to be known only as Annie said she refrained from confronting Ms Koh about the fire hazard that her items posed as "she is very fierce."

"Even a glance at her items can make her scold you like mad," she said.

Her Member of Parliament (MP), Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan said in a Facebook post last night that the MPs in East Coast GRC knew Ms Koh well.

He confirmed she owned her flat by herself, which was fully paid for, adding that she had turned down direct financial help.

Many agencies have helped her over the last four years, he wrote, including Southeast Community Development Council which has provided her monthly food vouchers and helped foot her electricity bill several times.

"The Ms Koh we know believes in being self-reliant. This was what she told our counsellors... The only problem Ms Koh has is that she ran out of place to store her collections of discarded items," he wrote, adding she last attended his Meet-the-People Session about three months ago, where a volunteer spoke to her for about 1 1/2 hours.

"Already she has collected so much her three-room flat is full. On one occasion, she could not open her door because her items fell backwards to lean on her door," he said.

"When her house is full, she started to pile her collections along the corridor."

He said the East Coast Town Council has spoken to her many times about those items, even offering a temporary storeroom for six months and paying her money to buy over her discarded items.

Psychologist Daniel Koh from Insights Mind Centre said hoarding could be obsessive-compulsive, where a person "just wants to collect things... and can't explain their reason to keep certain things."

A person could also be depressed and throwing away "meaningful" objects would be equal to throwing away part of him or herself, he said.

Or else, the hoarder could be keeping things which he or she hopes comes in useful in the future - possibly part of his or her life and identity.

"Sometimes people need to understand this behaviour is a secondary problem. Getting them to clean up may not help resolve a primary issue, which could be a need to channel one's sense of identity towards something else," he said.

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