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Safety hazard concerns arise as elderly ‘Karung Guni’ collector accumulates items in HDB corridor

An elderly ‘karung guni’ collector is making headlines for hoarding items outside her HDB corridor, raising safety concerns.

Netizens recognize her right to earn a living but worry about fire hazards and hindrances during emergencies.



SINGAPORE: An elderly ‘karung guni’ collector (a term derived from Malay, referring to rag-and-bone collectors in Singapore) has gained attention in local news headlines for hoarding items at corridor outside her unit, raising concerns among her neighbours due to safety and fire hazards.

The astonishing sight of a mountain of old items piled along the corridor has even deterred potential buyers from considering the nearby unit, as reported by a resident living in the vicinity.

The situation originated when a resident at Block 137 Potong Pasir Ave 3 lodged a complaint about loud crashing sounds emanating from the apartment above. Subsequent investigation revealed that the source of the noise was a hallway filled with a variety of old, second-hand items.

In an interview with Singaporean Chinese media outlet Shin Min Daily News, Mr Ye, a 56-year-old resident, shared that the unit in question is occupied by an elderly couple “in their 70s or 80s” and their son, who is estimated to be around 30 years old.

“Initially, I had a polite conversation with the elderly gentleman, and he apologized. Later, I learned that the noise was coming from his son, so I offered him some suggestions.”

Mr Ye emphasized that the noise significantly disrupted his sleep, and even the use of earplugs proved ineffective. He has subsequently reported the issue to the relevant authorities.

Another neighbour who has resided there for more than three decades elaborated that the elderly lady responsible for the items diligently tidies up the corridor every night and organizes the items.

“We usually find it acceptable, but sometimes the pile gets too large. In those cases, we remind them to tidy up, and they usually do.”

Mountain of discarded items deters potential home buyer

She disclosed that she is currently in the process of selling her unit. Over the listing period, several groups of prospective buyers have toured the property.

However, upon stepping out of the elevator and encountering the sight of old items strewn along the hallway, they were taken aback by the scene.

Though their words were limited, their visible hesitation is a cause of concern for her. She fears that this initial reaction might hinder her unit from being sold.

Another neighbour shared their perspective, stating that while the clutter is unsightly, it remains manageable. “Since the elderly don’t bring the items too close to my doorway, I refrain from commenting as well.”

Dedicated elderly scrap collector rises early to gather discarded items in the vicinity

In response to her neighbour’s complaint, the dedicated elderly scrap collector shared that she has been engaged in the practice of collecting old items for more than two decades, driven by her determination to be self-reliant. She expressed, “This is a matter of my dignity.”

She disclosed her routine of waking up between 4 am and 5 am each day to gather old items from the nearby vicinity. Often, she returns home around midnight at 12 am.

Her daily routine includes the task of pushing a cart to Toa Payoh Lorong 8 to buy and sell scrap paper, a journey that takes approximately an hour to complete.

Although her five children provide her with an allowance every month, and her husband also has a job, she mentioned that she has grown accustomed to being a “Karung Guni” collector as a way to pass the time.

“I’ve never relied on others. This is my pride. I earn money through this and have the means to feed myself.”

She elaborated that she sells scrap paper for S$7 per 100 kilograms, old clothes for 10 cents per piece, and for electrical appliances, she transports them to another location for resale. In the case of genuine interest and offers, the interested parties are welcome to take the items with them.

Jalan Besar Town Council’s response

A representative from Jalan Besar Town Council (TC) has reportedly addressed the situation.

According to the spokesperson, a TC officer visited the elderly individual’s unit last Friday (4 Aug) morning. However, despite their presence, there was no response when they knocked on the door.

They had left a note informing the owner of the visit and requesting the owner to get in touch with them.

The spokesperson added that they would continue to work with the residents and advise them to keep the corridors clear of objects.

The elderly collector mentioned that she tidies up the old items every evening and ensures that they do not obstruct the corridor.

She acknowledged that the town council members had reached out to her, and she agreed to clear the items along the corridor.

“I usually require about two weeks to a month to complete the task. I will have everything cleared before the upcoming Chinese New Year,” the elderly collector stated.

Netizens voice concerns over clutter and safety hazards

In response to the news published in Shin Min Daily News, numerous netizens expressed their opinions.

Observing the images, many indicated that they considered the clutter to be excessive. If confronted with a similar issue in their own estate, they mentioned they would inform their town council or Member of Parliament.

While acknowledging the elderly collector’s right to earn a living, they also raised concerns about the clutter’s potential as a fire hazard and its potential to hinder life-saving efforts during emergencies.

A netizen commented, “If you keep complaining to the town council, they will post a notice. For example, if it’s not cleared by 11/8, the town council will enforce removal by 12/8. This is a safety hazard. ”

“If a fire occurs, how would we escape? In my block, this is how we maintain clean corridors and stairwells. There are still plants and laundry racks, but there’s ample space.”

“How to deal with such neighbours? It can only be said they are too selfish. Self-reliance is not wrong, but it shouldn’t hinder the neighbours.”

“The corridor is full of clutter. In case of a fire, how can the neighbours escape? Hope the relevant authorities pay more attention to these issues.”

An incident was cited where a cluttered corridor in Boon Lay obstructed paramedics responding to a cardiac arrest case in December of the previous year.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) had difficulties navigating the congested corridor at Block 188 Boon Lay Drive with their stretcher. Cooperation between town council staff and SCDF was needed to clear a path.

Fortunately, the paramedics successfully transported the elderly patient after 45 minutes.

According to SCDF’s fire safety guidelines, a minimum clear escape passage of 1.2m clearance is to be maintained along HDB corridors.

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