Homeless man calls cops on shop owner who gave him shelter
As his way of giving back to society, Mr Lester Ching decided to open up his nasi lemak shop to strangers in need of shelter and food.
But one man who took up Mr Ching's offer repaid his kindness by calling the police - all because he was unhappy that his mattress was moved to a sheltered area in the back alley during the day.
That proves the adage that no good deed goes unpunished. But Mr Ching, 40, is determined not to let one sour episode stop his efforts in trying to help the needy.
"What society has given me, it is incumbent on me to give back," said the owner of Nasi Lemak Kukus on Upper Thomson Road, near the Springleaf housing estate.
After deciding to open his shop to the disadvantaged as a form of shelter after business hours, he put up a post on the shop's Facebook page about a month ago.
In the post dated July 1, he said he intended to put up a few foldable beds for "homeless folks" to stay over after the place is closed at night, and they can get "all the nasi lemak they can eat".
He told The New Paper that he was even looking into the possibility of hiring them as night watchmen.
Despite receiving a number of calls, the take-up rate was poor.
A few days after the post was put up, a 50-year-old forklift driver, whom Mr Ching addressed as Pontian, called to ask if there was a room that he could rent.
"When he heard that it was free, the line went silent for the longest time before he managed to utter a 'thank you'," said Mr Ching, who is also a commercial pilot.
Pontian showed up with his own mattress and stayed at the shop for a week.
Mr Ching said: "During his stay here, he would leave the shop at about 8am and come back around 8pm every day. He did his laundry here and ate whatever food that was available."
Pontian conducted himself well during the one-week stay, Mr Ching said.
As his shop does not have a lot of space, his workers took Pontian's mattress and placed it at the back alley during business hours.
Mr Ching said: "It was a sheltered area, but he was obviously not happy with this arrangement because after one week, he decided to call the cops on my staff."
The odd thing was that he never raised the matter with Mr Ching or his staff and they found out about his grievance only when the police showed up.
"He was pretty solemn and did not show any anger. We found out that he was unhappy only when he called the cops," Mr Ching said.
The police officer told them to settle the dispute themselves.
Mr Ching felt he had no choice but to ask the man to leave. He is understood to be sharing a rented room with another person now.
This incident taught Mr Ching to be more discerning with the people he invites into his shop, but it will not stop him from reaching out to those in need.
He said: "Regardless of how it turned out, I'm still happy that I managed to help him for a week."
This is not Mr Ching's first setback in his attempts to do good.
About a year ago, he started a "Thankful Tuesday Project" where people could come to the shop, eat whatever food they wanted and pay whatever they wished on the first Tuesday of every month. All proceeds went to charity.
Mr Ching stopped it last month because "it was open to a lot of abuse as people thought that it was free food".
He said he saw security guards contributing $50 and others who were dressed to the nines "milking it for all it's worth". Sometimes, he would even hear the sound of coins being dropped into the collection box.
Mr Ching said he had to sacrifice a week's profit to sustain this every month, so he decided to pull the plug.
"But every time I stop something, I will start something else."
So far, his offer of free shelter has sparked two promising calls. The callers told him that they have someone suitable and would arrange for him to interview them.
Mr Ching said: "Now I'm just waiting for the right one to come. It got off to a slow start, but no issues. I'll just keep on going at it."
It was a sheltered area, but he was obviously not happy with this arrangement because after one week, he decided to call the cops on my staff.
- Mr Lester Ching
Good idea, but think about issues: MPs
What Mr Lester Ching is doing is noble, but those wanting to help others must consider some things, say MPs and social workers contacted by The New Paper.
Ms Tin Pei Ling, MP for Marine Parade GRC, said: "Conceptually speaking, this is a noble idea.
"By doing this, he is encouraging the person to be self-reliant by providing enough support for him to get back on his feet again."
She pointed out some practical considerations: "There must be inherent trust because they are living with people whom they don't know very well. The person moving in might also have adjustment issues. All these need to be ironed out."
Ms Tin commended Mr Ching's intention of providing disadvantaged people with employment as this form of long-term support is valuable.
Mr Zainal Sapari, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said: "Personally, I would encourage any act of kindness, but the person who initiates this needs to be very careful.
"If he is able to open up the eatery to people who need a place to stay without contravening any building regulations, then it would be a win-win situation and we should encourage it."
He gave examples of people he encountered at Meet-the-People sessions who have difficulties finding accommodation, and have baggage, such as loan shark or family problems.
"So he needs to be aware of expectations and there should be a way that both parties can separate amicably should things fail to work out," Mr Zainal said.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, said: "He has a good heart and the compassion to help the less fortunate.
"It provides an outlet for people who are not able to get state welfare because of one reason or another. It is complementing what the state provides for low-income families and those who are truly in need."
He suggested that Mr Ching work closely with family service centres near him so that they can also provide the necessary help.
Mr Alwyn Chia, 41, who has been in social service for about five years, said: "This is a spontaneous act of goodwill given to the unfortunate. More and more people are coming up with novel ideas to help this group of people. This is certainly an encouraging sign."
But he said the real solution is to solve the root of the problem. For example, if the person chooses to be homeless because he could not get along with family members, then the most important thing is to resolve the conflict.
He said: "We need to find out why these people are homeless and find a more permanent solution."
He said the public could help them to find proper governmental channels as many of them might not know how to do so.
Mr Chia cited the Ministry of Social and Family Development's ComCare hotline (1800-222-0000) as one such channel.
We need to find out why these people are homeless and find a more permanent solution.
- Mr Alwyn Chia, who has worked in social service for about five years