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  • Habitat for Humanity Singapore

From homelessness to soon-to-be homeowners

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

“I have a 16-year-old son and a 75-year-old mum. If I don’t stand back up, who is going to stand up for us.”

As a 47-year-old single mother, Chantel's son kept her motivated to work hard and support her ageing parents. In her last full-time job, she was a personal assistant at a Taiwanese company before it closed down.

For 4 years, Chantel struggled to nail down another job and her quest to open her own travel agency also failed after she was cheated of money from selling her family home in Punggol.

“I had no choice but to go and stay in Changi Airport for half a year in 2017. It was the 3 of us. I’d let them sleep at night and when I see the security guards, we had to run from the security from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 and 3, and back to Terminal 1,” Chantel recalled.

With internet access at the airport, Chantel took the opportunity to send emails and appeals to the Housing Development Board (HDB) for a rental flat. Unaware of the tumor in her kidney then, Chantel’s health was also slowly deteriorating and standing or walking for long periods became particularly difficult.

By the time she received her 2-room rental flat in Punggol in October 2018, she was already diagnosed with early-stage cancer in her kidney. The operation to remove her kidney in March last year further affected her ability to walk or stand.

“I applied to jobs like trolley pushers in Changi Airport, at McDonalds’, and NTUC FairPrice. Even though I cannot walk, I still try to apply for those jobs because I’ll have money for food,” she said.

Undeterred, Chantel and her mum signed up to be GrabFood delivery riders using their Personal Mobility Aids. When they first started last year, they would be able to earn about $2,000 a month.

However the influx of riders, especially during COVID-19 pandemic, reduced their earnings to about $40-$50 a day. “It’s only enough to feed us, but not for anything else like rent for example,” shared Mdm Lim.

As frustration with their earnings grew, so did the clutter in their 2-room rental home. The bedroom started out as storage for bags of items from their previous family home, and became a catch-all for everything else.

The sofa and mattresses spread out on the living room floor, surrounded by empty drink bottles and plastic bags, was where they spent most of their time. The clutter and lack of personal private space has also fuelled tension and quarrels at home.

“There were so many things in the house. We would all be so busy heading out to work in the morning. By the time we come back in the afternoon, we need to rest because we usually head out to work again in the evenings until about 8pm. We come home for dinner and we just want to go straight to sleep. We don’t get much time to clean up after the house,” said Mdm Lim.

When their case was referred to Project HomeWorks, it was a chance to help Chantel and her family start afresh and with a clear mind to focus on their future plans. With the help of Habitat Singapore Ambassador Paul Foster and 4 friends, the team worked alongside Chantel and her son to sort, discard and re-organise their house.

As soon as more floor space became available, the volunteer team also helped to give the house a thorough clean to make it easier for Chantel and her mother to maintain.

“It’s important that we help to maintain the cleanliness of the house now and not throw things carelessly. If it’s just a little bit to clean up, we can clean daily. But there were so many things, it had to take 6 of you to help clear this small house!,” said Mdm Lim.

With their current living situation settled, Chantel is set on achieving her long-term goal: to purchase and move into a 3-room flat with HDB support for single parents.

To get there, Chantel is hoping to get a fixed job and salary at a friend’s bakery shop. “If I can have a fixed salary and monthly savings of $600 and above in my bank account, HDB has assured me that we can definitely get the 3-room room flat. I’m striving towards this goal,” said Chantel.

Habitat has always believed that with a little help, families all have the potential to stand on their own. Working alongside families like Chantel’s helps to empower them to take control of their lives, rebuild their confidence and resilience, and focus on building a more stable future for themselves.


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