They are bloodstains – left by bugs which had been swiped.
They cover virtually his entire flat – all the walls, the floor, parts of the ceiling and the corners. Hundreds of stains from the bugs his former flatmate had swiped or killed. His mattress on the floor, where he sleeps, is also in a dire state. So are his single sofa set and the clutter around his flat.
His home is infested – and he is in a conundrum.
Mr Lim (not his real name) has lived there for some 20 months. His flatmate had recently moved out. Mr Lim now lives alone and pays rent of S$123 a month to the Housing and Development Board (HDB). It may be a small amount to many but to Mr Lim, 53-years old and single, it is an amount he cannot afford as he is jobless. He owes arrears to the HDB.
This has led him to believe that if he reported the infestation, the HDB will have an added reason to evict him. “HDB how?” he kept asking, when we told him he needed to get his flat cleaned up. Mr Lim’s main worry is that he will be homeless if the HDB comes knocking on his door. Even after we assured him that he will be fine, he was still very much concerned.
“What if the police come?” he asked. “What if there were 10 policemen?”
Another reason he is afraid is that he needed a new flatmate to share the flat with him. HDB rules say that an unmarried or single person cannot live alone in a rental flat. But with his house in such a state, it is hard to find anyone willing to move in with him. So, he is also anxious about this as he fears this will give HDB another reason to evict him.
It was only yesterday, on 5 September, after much persuasion by his friends, that he finally made a report to the HDB about the infestation. He is now afraid of what the HDB might do to his tenancy.
“Are you able to sleep at night,” I ask him, referring to the bugs which have practically taken over his abode. “Cannot,” comes his reply. “Very itchy,” he says as he points to his legs and arms. To avoid the bugs, he sleeps on the floor on another side of the flat. It doesn’t help but he has little choice.
Mr Lim lives in fear that he will be made homeless because of his rental arrears, the infestation and the lack of a flatmate. And because of these, he is willing to put up with the atrocious and unimaginable condition he is faced with at home.
It took us quite a while to assure him that he will be fine and that he should call us if he needed our assistance after he has heard from the HDB.
Some may say that he is to blame for the condition of his own home but that would be simplistic. Mr Lim seems unable to understand what we were saying to him initially and only understood us after several reiteration and repetition. It is thus possible and even probable that he may not understand the seriousness of the infestation which, if left unchecked, could spread to his neighbours’ homes as well and pose a health risk to others.
It is also a matter of concern that the fear of losing his flat has led him to not report the infestation. Clearly, it is a serious health risk to himself, if not others too. It has also resulted in him not having proper rest.
We hope that the HDB, which we will be writing to, will look into this, help disinfest his flat, and remove the parasitic menace. HDB should also take his personal circumstances into consideration regarding his rental payment.
We will be keeping in touch with Mr Lim regularly and see if things improve.
It is unclear how the infestation started.
Mr Lim lives in an area where the bed bugs menace was reported in the news in August. The MP for Tanjong Pagar declared a "war" on the blood-sucking menace. She "revealed that up to 150 households will have their homes fumigated at once - in what is believed to be the first exercise of its kind in Singapore." (See here)
For now, Mr Lim's one-room flat may be infested and stained with blood – but it’s his only home.
Some more pictures: