He used to travel the world and was so successful he retired at 41. Today, he sleeps on the streets.
Eric is not a typical homeless man. The 61-year-old Singaporean speaks perfect English and engages in conversation with sharp wit. Yet this senior citizen, who claims to have once rubbed shoulders with politicians and prominent businessmen, now lives on the street without shelter or salary.
In his prime, Eric (not his real name) was a jet-setting entrepreneur who drew a five-figure salary and enjoyed unlimited entertainment expenses from his Swiss employer. He was successful enough to retire at 41.
However, he continued to live life in the fast lane after stopping work.
He spent almost a million dollars over 20 years by drinking and partying, and his relationship with his wife suffered. The couple divorced, and not wanting to bring trouble to his children or his wife, Eric headed off on his own last July. By December, his savings had run out and he found himself on the streets, homeless and hungry.
Despite his circumstances, Eric is cheerful and positive. Last month, I accompanied him for a day as he went about his daily routine.
The father of four – from two marriages – was wearing a pair of broken sandals and an old red Junior College t-shirt that belonged to his eldest son, who is serving his National Service. He meets the three children from his second marriage for weekly meals. They feel bad about his predicament and sometimes supply him with new clothing.
“Last time, whenever I buy something, I look for the most expensive. Now I look for the cheapest – or better still – free,” said Eric as he collected four packets of rice.
He gives packets to his homeless friends who cannot make the long walk. These friends had taught him where he could sleep, shower, wash and dry his clothes.
Eric is a resourceful man. Having bought a lifetime SAFRA membership in the past, he now uses the card to get free coffee and biscuits at the jackpot room’s pantry.
He also goes to the public library, where he updates his Facebook and checks for email updates about his application to extend his social welfare assistance.
Eric worked as a cleaner earlier this year, but after suffering two heart attacks, decided to take some time off work to recover.
He remains open to less physically demanding employment.
“I can write, reply mails, troubleshoot. For my age now, there’s nothing much available,” he lamented.
In the meantime, Eric heads to the nearby supermarket when he needs some money.
He explained: “Go to the car park, not to pick up money, but inside the trolley there’s one dollar.”
He looks for supermarket trolleys with dollar coins in them, left behind by drivers who do not return their trolleys.
As night falls, Eric finds a dark corner to lay cardboard boxes to sleep on. In between random spot-checks by police officers (up to five times a night), he dreams of a better life.
He said: “I just hope for a small house with a small bed, and to be able to be involved in more charitable work – to spend more time making people happy.”
In fact, Eric hopes to set up a shelter for the homeless in future, where residents receive food and shelter in return for helping to maintain the place.
He explained: “I didn’t notice (the homeless) before. Last time, I start my car and drive off.”
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