Men with little family support find it tough

Lee Yong Hong, 62, has asthma and other chronic lung problems. But throughout the haze in June this year, he slept out in the open along a corridor near his one-room Housing Board rental flat.

His wife had taken out a personal protection order against him. He claims he spilled hot coffee on her accidentally during a heated argument. She says it was deliberate.

The order has lapsed, but he has still not been allowed to return home. As he settled down for the night one evening last week, pulling out an old folding chair, he said: "I don't have much choice."

The father of a grown-up son receives a cash grant of $300 from the Community Development Council (CDC), which he tops up by working as a rag and bone man.

Earlier this year, he went to a seniors care centre run by NTUC Eldercare near his Lengkok Bahru block looking for food. Centre supervisor Chai Chee Mei linked him with another charity which provides the service.

"If it wasn't for the free food, I would not have enough to eat," he said.

Older divorced men or those like Mr Lee, who are estranged from their families, form a big part of the elderly poor, said Ms Chai.

Her clients include several older men who are unable to work but find it difficult to get assistance because they have children.

Mr Tung Choy Ngon, 66, was living on instant noodles until he began getting free food too.

The former welder, who lost his right arm in a workplace accident in the 1960s, lost his part-time job as a restaurant cleaner early this year because of worsening eyesight.

The father of four let on in Mandarin that he was reluctant to apply for CDC aid as he knew the council would contact his children. "I do not want to bother them," he said.

So there have been days when he lived in the dark, unable to pay the electricity bill.

After being convinced to apply, the CDC now gives him $200 in cash and pays for his rent, conservancy and utilities.

He also gets free food on weekdays and rations. Three of his children - roped in by the CDC - give him $50 each.

Still, what he gets each month is less than the $450 available to someone on public assistance. He lives largely from hand to mouth. In August, before the CDC aid came through, his bank account was down to just $1.

But Mr Tung is not unhappy. "There were times when I had instant noodles for Chinese New Year," he says. "Things have improved since then."

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