He slept outside as his one-room flat was filled with trash, bugs
Volunteers from Keeping Hope Alive cleared out 81-year-old man's unit last Sunday as part of their mission to help the needy
When they opened the front door of the unit at Block 64 Lorong 5 Toa Payoh, they knew they were in for a long day.
The one-room rental flat on the ground floor was so full of trash that none of them could even step inside the unit.
Entering through the back door, the group of volunteers were greeted with an even nastier sight as they started cleaning up the place last Sunday.
"Big cockroaches would run out," Ms Fion Phua, founder of volunteer group Keeping Hope Alive told The New Paper yesterday, adding that the flat was also infested with rats.
The smell was so pungent that the volunteers, who donned personal protective equipment (PPE) including a mask, face shield and two layers of surgical gloves, had to apply medicinal ointment to bear with it.
But the group of about 35 worked in shifts and in groups of five - due to social distancing rules - to clean out the flat in about seven hours, throwing out more than 30 bags of trash and other items such as fans, bicycles and televisions.
Ms Phua, 50, said her group, which visits rental flats every Sunday, got to know the man living in the flat two weeks ago.
They were visiting the man's neighbour and found it odd that the man, who is hard of hearing, wore dirty clothes, walked around barefoot and slept on sheets of cardboard along the corridor outside his flat.
Identified by Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao as Mr Chen Yongfa, 81, the man said he had no intention of hoarding junk.
Living alone in the flat for the past four years, he said he collected discarded items and sold them to make a living.
But he had to keep the items at home after Covid-19 struck as he could not sell them and was too old to clear up the clutter.
With the help of the volunteers from Keeping Hope Alive, who toiled from 8am to 3pm last Sunday, Mr Chen now has a new bed and his empty flat will soon get a fresh coat of paint.
He told Wanbao: "Now I can finally sleep comfortably in bed and not in the company of rats and cockroaches."
Ms Phua said the pandemic has been tough on her volunteers.
"The difficult part is when you are wearing PPE, there is no ventilation. It is hot, humid and very hard to breathe."
But it has been even more difficult on the elderly living alone in rental flats, especially at the beginning, she said.
"Imagine if you can't go out, can't have visitors, don't have phone calls or any connections. It can be very frustrating."