No home to call their own

No home to call their own


In the last nine months, Madam Noor Yusoff, her husband and their three children have moved five times. They stayed in rooms rented from relatives, friends and strangers for one to five months at a time, until they had exhausted all goodwill.


On three occasions, for a month each time, they camped out in the void decks of HDB blocks in Ang Mo Kio and Bedok North Avenue 4. They stayed there till someone complained. Then they moved in with a relative for a while, before moving out again to another void deck.


When The Sunday Times caught up with them two weeks ago, they had set up home in the void deck of Block 98 in Bedok for three nights in a row.


The family had with them five huge cardboard boxes filled with clothes, shoes, diapers, cooking pots, toys and textbooks. A tent housed their two sleeping daughters, aged four and eight, while their one-year-old boy gurgled on his father’s lap.


Their story is typical of many void-deck nomads who have fallen out with relatives and friends.


Both Madam Noor, 36, and her husband, Mr Ain Salbri, 27, were married before. They both owned four-room flats with their former spouses.


Madam Noor and her first husband owned a four-room flat in Woodlands. She used to take home $1,300 as a salesgirl before stopping work to look after their three children aged eight, 10 and 11.


In 2003, tired of paying off her husband’s debts, she filed for divorce and won custody of the children.


In November 2004, Madam Noor married Mr Ain, whom she first met at an MRT station. Together, they lived in the Woodlands flat and had a daughter and, later, a son.


But in 2006, Madam Noor’s former husband appealed for custody of the children. This time, the Syariah Court awarded him custody and ordered that the flat be sold and the proceeds split. But most of the resale value of the flat went into paying off mortgage loans and other debts.


From May last year, Madam Noor, who is now six months pregnant, Mr Ain and their three children – including her youngest daughter from her first marriage – began their nomadic journey in a series of rented rooms.


According to HDB policy, both were not eligible to rent a flat from the HDB at subsidised rates for 30 months after selling their flats bought from the board with subsidy conditions.


Since then, they have appealed to their MPs, who wrote letters of appeal to the HDB but to no avail. Grassroots leaders were also alerted to offer assistance.


Between the couple, they have more than $50,000 in their Central Provident Fund accounts. Mr Ain earns about $1,000 a month as a bowling alley technician.


But, according to the HDB, he gave them different accounts of the jobs held and had not submitted any income documents to substantiate his claims.


A spokesman noted: ‘In January this year, he claimed that he was unemployed.’


He added: ‘The family have substantial CPF savings and have indicated they would like to explore the option of buying a smaller flat. We are in touch with the family with regard to this option and for verification of their actual household income.’


However, The Sunday Times understands the family cannot afford the cash down payment to buy a three-room resale flat.


Over the past year, they have rented rooms costing between $150 and $500 a month.


Social worker Jermaine Kwek from Trans Family Service Centre, who is handling their case, appealed on their behalf to New Hope Shelter for Displaced Families in April. They were placed on the wait-list as the shelter was full.


‘We exhausted all options to help the family – HDB, schools, community development council and shelters – but could not get them a place to stay,’ she said.


The HDB said that divorcees ought to work out ‘their personal rehousing plan based on the options available’.


These include staying with parents, buying a resale flat or retaining matrimonial flats.


In Madam Noor’s case, the HDB said that due to a dispute with a relative, she moved to the void deck. The board also pointed out that her current husband’s parents live in a three-room flat and his three siblings each have a four-room flat.


‘Those who can afford to help themselves, and those with family to turn to, should not be competing for HDB’s rental flats with truly needy cases.’


In response, Madam Noor said the relatives must be ‘keen to let us stay with them’.


Two weeks ago, Fengshan grassroots leaders and Trans FSC found a place for Madam Noor at New Hope Shelter, after a two-month wait. The family can stay there for at least a month, and are attending courses on budgeting and getting help with housing options.


The HDB is also working with the family to assess the situation.


Source: Straits Times

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