“Last night was especially busy (see previous status update). Certainly, some of our residents have been vocal. But I could not believe my eyes when I read in the Straits Times this morning that some of our residents likened studio apartments for the elderly to ‘death houses’. We even called up the journalist to double-check that this was said and heard. As MP, I am committed to represent our residents and will continue to do so. But I cannot support comments like this. Let’s keep our tone civil and maintain respect for our elderly.” – MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, Sim Ann, on her Facebook page.
Ms Sim Ann is referring to the controversy surrounding the building of elder-friendly facilities and the HDB’s plans to build studio apartments for the elderly in the Toh Yi estate in Bukit Timah. The Straits Times had reported:
“A handful of the residents also likened the apartments to ‘death houses’ for the elderly to wait out their last days.”
While the residents’ concerns about the lack of space and common amenities may be valid and should be taken into consideration by the authorities, their misguided and insensitive views on the elderly should be condemned by all Singaporeans.
Being older in age does not mean one is waiting to die.
And such myopic and disrespectful remarks or views do not entitle one to use them as justification in not wanting facilities for the elderly to be built in the estate.
In a similar vein, residents in Woodlands too were reported to be against the building of an elder day care centre at the void decks of two blocks in the area. One of the reasons cited was the negative effect this will have on the value of the flats there.
Residents objecting to facilities being built at their void decks or near their areas are not new. These have happened in at least three other precincts in Bedok, Hougang and Tampines.
In Tampines, MP Irene Ng said she welcomed the building of studio apartments in one of her precincts last year. “[We] worked with grassroots leaders and residents to help make sure they understand the benefits. Had a frank closed-door dialogue with them before the development was announced publicly. The construction is coming along nicely, and the flats are very popular, especially among our seniors themselves who want to live near their children in Tampines.”
“Our response as a community reflects on our attitude towards providing for our elderly to help them lead independent and dignified lives,” she had posted on her Facebook page last year, explaining how she dealt with residents’ concerns. (Read the entire note here.)
Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Chan Chun Sing, said “the government will need to share and educate the public on such needs.”
“Some of the issues are real, some of the issues could be because they do not fully understand (the need for these facilities). We have many examples of many communities embracing many of these social services in their community.
“Many of the communities in fact come to embrace the work and help out in these centres, be it day activity centres for the elderly, (or) day care centres for the children. So I think there’s great potential for everybody to work together.”
I walk pass an elder day care centre in Hougang on my way to the MRT station each day. You see how the elderly folks are taken care of, at times engaging in fun activities like singing. Never have I thought that the centre is a “death house” for them. On the contrary, it is heartening to see how we as a society extend a hand to these fellow Singaporeans when they grow old.
And that is what Singaporeans need to understand – that these folks are not some abstract statistics. They are made of flesh and blood who have lived and perhaps struggled a lifetime. Now that they are in their old age, it is our duty to be empathetic and sensitive and to extend our hands of comfort to them.
It is about caring for our seniors, about showing our children what it means to be humane so that they will be as well. It is about what kind of society we want our next generations to grow up in. How do we teach and instil respect in our children when we talk like this?
Yet, it is about more than these. It is about those frail men and women we see around us, those who contributed to what we enjoy now. Indeed, some of them may even be those who gave birth to us. How do we make them feel they are loved, respected and embrace them?
Certainly, you don’t and can’t do this with an appalling attitude which looks at the elderly as people who are doing nothing but waiting to die.
How would you feel if, when the day comes – as it surely will – you are one of the elderly in need of a home but are told that you are not welcomed (by your own countrymen) for no other reason than that you are old?
Read STOMP’s report here.