SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) has responded to outrage over the imprisonment of a man who was found sleeping at East Coast Park, clarifying that enforcement action had to be taken as a “last resort” after the individual repeatedly declined offers of assistance.
The man, 46-year-old Jackson Chan Kian Leng, was caught sleeping in pavilions around the park between March and June 2022. NParks inspectors conducting routine patrols noticed that he occupied the pavilion from 3am to 6am and that it appeared he had “set up home” in the area, putting up an inflatable mattress, folding table and chairs, mug, cooler box, and fishing gear within the pavilion.
During the court hearing on Tuesday (30 May), the prosecutor argued that living in public parks without permission from the authorities is strictly prohibited and that Jackson’s belongings had occupied the entire pavilion, rendering it unusable for other park visitors.
Jackson pleaded guilty to two charges under the Park and Trees Act and was ultimately fined S$1,400. As he claimed he was unable to pay the amount, the judge sentenced him to four days’ jail instead.
Throughout the court proceedings, Jackson provided no explanation for his actions and did not offer any mitigation. However, during a previous hearing on 17 May, he claimed to be unaware that a permit was required to sleep in the park.
The majority of Singaporeans responding to the man’s sentence on online forums like HardWareZone, Reddit and Telegram chatgroups have asserted that this is not the solution and that the authorities should be more empathetic to the plight of the man, who has been perceived to be homeless. Many argued that the man should have received aid instead of punishment.
But NParks and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) have now said that the authorities did offer aid but Jackson declined the repeated offers of assistance.
In a joint statement, the authorities said that they were first made aware of Jackson’s situation in June 2020. Despite multiple offers of shelter, he consistently refused assistance and appeared to be in good health. In April 2021, MSF engaged with him again, but Jackson declined to provide contact details or consent to be referred to social service agencies.
During Singapore’s COVID-19 Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period in the latter part of 2021, Jackson was observed staying at the East Coast Park shelter, despite its closure to the public and being cordoned off. This prompted NParks to issue six composition notices to him, between December 2021 and April 2022.
The joint statement further revealed that Jackson exhibited uncooperative behavior and hostility towards officers who approached him.
In one incident, he splashed a pail of water on a security officer patrolling the park. NParks and MSF noted that they had warned Jackson in August 2022 that further enforcement action would be taken if he did not vacate the shelter.
Despite this and NParks repeated offers to connect him with government agencies that could help him, Jackson continued to occupy the shelter throughout the day until May of this year. He also told the authorities that he has a home in Singapore.
Revealing that it has been collaborating with the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network to engage and befriend rough sleepers and homeless individuals, MSF said that a nationwide single-night street count conducted last year suggests that Singapore’s rough sleeping population has decreased by approximately 40 percent to 530 individuals, since 2019.
The ministry added, yesterday (10 June): “For those who are willing to be assisted, we have supported their needs through befriending and outreach, coordinated case support and provision of shelter.”