OC’s Ravi Philemon, Andrew Loh and a friend, Lisa Li, paid a visit to the homeless people at Sembawang Park on 30 December. Here is the story of Mr Sunny Murugaya whom they met there.
He speaks with the air of a grassroots leader showing you around his constituency. The regular visitor waves at him. A young man, unasked, brings him a cup of water. This is Mr Sunny Murugaya, 74, former member of the Barisan Socialis party, also one of the many homeless people now living in Sembawang Park.
“I’m fine” he tells you. “I’m an old man. What about the other families with children?”
They are the ones he is most concerned about. He refuses the gift of biscuits and canned food, and makes a sweeping gesture to the people sitting in the small concrete huts, and to the rows of tents behind. “Give it to the others. They have children.”
He is depressed, he says, but you see more fiery spirit than depression as he passionately speaks of what the government should be doing for the people there. “The government is rich! How come they can develop here, develop there, donate to other countries, but got no money to help these people?”
Build a block of flats for these people, he says, they need to stay in a proper place, their children need to go to school with no distraction, there are even pregnant women here! “How come they go to see the MP, but no use, they are still living here!”
He tells you about his Barisan Socialis days, when he would help Dr Lee Siew Choh as a coordinator, recruiting new members. He speaks of J.B. Jeyaretnam asking him to join the Workers’ Party. “But I couldn’t,” he smiles. “JBJ and I were good friends, but we did not have the same aims. I was more anti-government than him.”
But all that was in the past. Then, he was married, and worked as a 24-hour security guard. Now, he is separated from his wife and, semi-paralysed from a stroke in March this year, his job is gone. Still, he is able to make some money for himself by scouring factories in Jurong in search of people who want flats, and then passing their contact details onto housing agents. You just need to make the effort, he says.
Later, he reveals that the social worker at Changi General Hospital wanted to put him in an old folks’ home for free, but he refused. “I am still active; I don’t want to be tied down. I want my freedom, I can take care of myself,” he declares. This, perhaps, is why he constantly directs your attention to the other homeless families at Sembawang Park who do not even have such an offer. He tells you that many others are trying to get help, jobs and shelter, but to no avail.
“Tell the government what I suggested,” he urges. “This is not political; this is just feedback, just basic human rights!”
It is nearly ten o’clock at night at Sembawang Park; the air is filled with the chatter of friends celebrating the New Year with barbequed chicken wings, music, drinks. Right next to the barbeque pits is a small concrete hut where Mr Sunny lays out newspapers and cloth, preparing for bed.
In his own words
Let me ask you, how much money does the government have? 350 billion dollars in assets! How come they can develop here, develop there, but got no money to help these people?
I give you a suggestion, please go and tell the government. Why don’t they build a block of flats and let these people stay there? 1-room, temporary, doesn’t matter. These people have no money, they are depressed.. help them get a job. The government can donate to other countries — how come they cannot afford to help their own people? Don’t you think this is like a refugee camp? This is not political, this is just feedback, just basic human rights.
I have never gone to see the MP to ask for help. There are so many families here with children, some women are pregnant; they go and see the MP but no use — they are still living here. I’m only an old man — why would they help me when they don’t help the families with children? They need to stay in a proper place, so their kids can go to school properly, no distractions. Why doesn’t the government do that, you tell me.
You know, my friends say that in Malaysia and Indonesia, when people cannot pay, the government does not cut off the water supply. Here in Singapore, when you cannot pay, the government cuts your water supply, maybe send warrant for arrest, then if you still don’t pay, you go to jail or the government may take back your flat… So many families here are like that. Nowhere to go. What to do? Swim across the sea to Malaysia? For what? This is my country.
Actually last time I was in the Barisan Socialis. You know Dr Lee Siew Choh? I was with him. I was a coordinator and helped to recruit new members. JBJ also asked me to join his party, because he knew my capabilities, but I said no. We were good friends, but I could not join his political party.. We did not have the same aims; I’m more anti-government.
But all that was last time. I had a job as a 24-hour security guard, used to be married. Now I’m separated from my wife. In March this year while I was at work. I took my shower at 2 am and then I had a stroke and fell down. I called my boss and told him, I’m taking a taxi to the hospital. Actually at that time I could not really move, but what to do, I had to go there myself.
Now I cannot move my right side. When I walk, I need to drag my leg along with me. It’s like when a glass drops and cracks, you can try to put it together again, but it is not the same. When you are old, you cannot be young again. When you are sick, you cannot be 100% again anymore. So I cannot work there anymore.
But CGH was very good. They waived the hospital fees for me. The social welfare worker also wanted to put me in an old folks’ home but I don’t want to. I’m still active. I don’t want to be tied up.
Nowadays I can still make some money when I find people who need a flat, and I refer them to a housing agent. I just go to the factories in Jurong and ask around, or I ask the security guards. Just need to make the effort. I need to eat food, right?
Anyway, if you want to talk more to me, can. I am usually here at 8 or 9 every night. You want to take a photo of me, also can. I can face anybody, I am not worried. But I hope I will not live so long.. The earlier I die, the better