Twice homeless, man grapples with disability after severe fall left him wheelchair-bound

Homeless twice, Mr Lemuel So has been staying at different locations all his life. The wheelchair-bound man finally has a roof over head, but he is still coming to terms with his condition.
PHOTO: AsiaOne

Homeless twice, moved countless times. Wheelchair-bound man finally has roof over head, but he's still coming to terms with his condition.

Living in the streets can be tough. Just ask Mr Lemuel So, who was homeless, not once but twice.

Born in Indonesia, Mr So came to Singapore with his adoptive family who migrated here in 1971.

When he was 20 years old, life took an abrupt turn when his adopted family decided to return to Indonesia, leaving Mr So with the option to stay or go. He chose to stay, wanting to be independent.

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After his family left, Mr So, who was working as a part-time actor at that time, moved countless times and stayed in rental rooms for 19 years until rental fees got too expensive for him.

In 2003, Mr So found himself homeless on the streets. He moved about sleeping around MRT stations at Bedok, Pasir Ris, and Changi for three years.

Although life was not easy, the 52-year-old refused to seek help, not even from his family members. "Sleeping on the streets gave me more freedom," said Mr So.

The unhygienic conditions on the streets took a toll on his health and his legs got infected. In 2004, doctors had to amputate some of his toes, affecting his mobility.

A brief respite came in 2005 when he stayed at Christian Care Services, a halfway house, for four years. There, he received medical attention for his leg wounds via services from healthcare provider Home Nursing Foundation (HNF).

However in 2010, Mr So decided to move to the streets again due to disagreements with his housemates. His second homeless experience in the east lasted another three years.

But it was a terrible fall in 2012 that caused an injury to his  hat left him wheelchair-bound.

Unable to work due to his condition and with funds drying up, the Social Service Offices from the Ministry of Social and Family Development stepped in to offer Mr So assistance. He later started receiving monthly payouts from his CPF.

As luck would have it, a friend agreed to let Mr So stay in a one-room rental flat in Pasir Ris a year later, and he has been living there ever since.

Even though Mr So now has a roof over his head, he is still coming to terms with his physical condition.

"I can't accept being disabled," Mr So said.

His immobility has made it hard for him to move around his flat, and there were times when he had to call for the ambulance after falling at home.

Despite feeling lonely, Mr So does not intend to contact his family members.

"I've lost contact with my family members. I also don't want them to worry for me," he said.

His Pasir Ris flat was threadbare, without any mirrors.

The walls were also empty with no family portraits, nor photos of him.

It was these empty walls that drew the attention of HNF staff during their visits to treat Mr So's leg wounds.

An idea was mooted to help patients adorn their bare walls with photographs, and so the organisation partnered photographer Kelvin Lim to take photos of these everyday people.

Despite his unwillingness, HNF convinced Mr So to be photographed.

Asked what he feels about the photo that HNF took for him, Mr So paused.

"I have decided that when I pass away, I want to use that photo at my (funeral)."

grongloh@sph.com.sg

Home Nursing Foundation, Singapore's largest home healthcare provider, will be screening a photo exhibition of their patients at Raffles City level 3 atrium from April 24 - 26. Admission is free

For more information, visit www.portraitsoflove.sg.

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