Money woes drive family out of home

Money woes drive family out of home
Mr Sam and Madam Mary are the faces of a typical case of homelessness in Singapore. They are young and with kids, sold off their flat for cash but later found that they could not afford to buy or rent one.

If only we hadn't borrowed. If only illness had not struck. If only the business had not failed. If only I had realised there was help.

These "If onlys" litter this young family's journey from a four-room flat in 2006 to being homeless and living at the beach.

Life was rosy when Mr Sam, 32, and Madam Mary, 28, got married in 2006. They bought a flat in Woodlands and had a son soon after.

Mr Sam was an officer on board a ship, drawing about $2,000 monthly. But things started spiralling downwards when Madam Mary's father was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2008.

Madam Mary, now a nursing student, said: "My mum remarried, so I had to look after my dad. I'm the eldest girl of six siblings."

She has an elder brother and the other sisters are still schooling.

To help his wife cope, Mr Sam quit his job and worked as a courier service driver, earning about half his previous salary. To supplement his income, he also worked as a valet at night.

But this loss of income had serious consequences, especially with the medical bills and mounting household expenses they encountered after their second child arrived in 2010.

Madam Mary's father, 51, died several months later, but soon after, her grandfather became ill.

NIGHTMARE

And the nightmare began again. Struggling with mounting bills, the couple started borrowing from illegal moneylenders.

Madam Mary said: "We were so desperate. We couldn't cope anymore and nearly divorced."

Mr Sam said: "It was a stupid thing to do. When the time came to pay up, I borrowed from another ah long. I didn't think of how to repay (the debts)."

Unable to cope, they sold their flat in 2012 and moved in with Madam Mary's grandparents.

They used the $100,000 profit from the sale to pay off the debts they had incurred in the form of credit card bills, hire purchases, ah long debts, outstanding medical bills and money used for daily expenses and transportation fees, which came to about $80,000.

With the leftover money, Mr Sam started a logistics business with a series of rented vans to do delivery, but it failed last year.

He then began working again, doing a similar job with a company that provided him with a van.

Madam Mary started her nursing course last year and was not bringing in an income.

Then came the next blow. She and her family had to move out when her grandfather died in January this year. By then, the couple had three children and Madam Mary's grandmother, 70, did not want the family of five living with her.

Madam Mary's mother was unable to help as she had her own difficulties.

With nowhere to go, the family ended up living on the beach at East Coast Park. For a month, they were on tenterhooks, living with the constant fear of being discovered by the authorities.

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