Seeking safety, convenience at busy hubs such as airport

Maria, in her 50s, moved out of the rental flat she shared with her son when they could not get along.

She spends her days now at a 24-hour coffee shop in Chinatown before going to bed along a corridor nearby - making sure she remains in the vicinity of the round-the-clock establishment.

"It's safety first, for us women," said the unemployed mother of three who declined to give her full name. "There's a 24-hour supermarket nearby, a coffee shop and a park where people sit.

"It can get noisy, but it's better than sleeping at a place that is far from people."

Read also: Some are sticking with solitary spots at stairways, riverside

More people who sleep on the streets have moved to public urban spaces to spend their nights.

Mr Abraham Yeo, from volunteer group Homeless Hearts of Singapore, said younger homeless people, in particular, seek out places such as 24-hour eateries or Internet LAN shops.

Read also: Fewer homeless families now: MSF

But even brightly lit areas are not always safer, he cautioned. A man's bag was stolen when he left it outside a convenience store while he took a shower at a toilet nearby.

At East Coast Park, many who used to sleep in tents on the beach have taken to bedding down near Parkland Green, which opened in 2014. The Sunday Times saw about 10 people sleeping on benches nearby about three months ago, but numbers have halved of late.

A 60-year-old man who wanted to be known only as Moses said he used to sleep on the beach.

"If it rained, we'd move to a pavilion," said the security officer, who had family problems. Late last year, he took to sleeping under shelter near Parkland Green.

Read also: Beach community finds a voice in 'town halls'

Others might sleep at newer facilities, such as malls.

In the middle of last month, it was reported that a 35-year-old man had been living at Jurong Point shopping mall for nearly four years despite renting a room in Boon Lay. The mall is air-conditioned, and has a 24-hour supermarket, Wi-Fi and electrical outlets.

A spokesman for Jurong Point said the man was welcome as long as he did not pose a nuisance.

Others seek out spots in Changi Airport. One woman is believed to have lived there for eight years and is one of more than 10 "regulars".

Read also: Where the displaced seek refuge

Mr Jabez Tan, who founded eatery Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, said people seeking refuge at the airport move around to avoid being chased away. He has employed more than 10 in the past four years.

But old habits often die hard.

"Even when I provided them with a place to live, one of them used the housing for only one to two days a week," said Mr Tan. "On other days, he would go back to the airport."

This article was first published on Feb 5, 2017.
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