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Singaporeans stand up for man who was jailed for sleeping at East Coast Park pavilion

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The majority of Singaporeans responding to the man's sentence on online forums have asserted that this is not the solution and that the authorities should be more empathetic to the plight of the man

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans online are standing up for a man who was sentenced to four days’ jail after he was caught by the authorities sleeping in a pavilion at East Coast Park.

The majority of Singaporeans responding to the man’s sentence on online forums 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.

The 46-year-old man, Jackson Chan Kian Leng, was caught sleeping in pavilions around the park between March and June 2022, by National Parks Board (NParks) inspectors during routine patrols.

Inspectors 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.

Public opinion appears to firmly be in Jackson’s camp.

The majority of netizens on online forums like HardWareZone, Reddit and Telegram chatgroups have posited that Jackson is clearly homeless and that he should have received aid instead of punishment.

u/throwawaygreenpaq said on Reddit: “Slapping a fine on him and giving him a criminal record is definitely not the solution. Dude was definitely homeless, they should have got social services to help if they were genuinely interested in keeping him off the streets.”

Echoing this sentiment, u/Reasonable_Swing_503 questioned: “Why are we jailing homeless man instead of helping them? Shouldn’t the taxes collected from us have some budget to help these vulnerable person?”

They added, “I felt like our country is so uncompassionate and sending all these poor people to jail or slap fine on the just because they can’t and don’t have the resources to contest the charge given. These people really don’t deserve this.”

u/One_Ok avatar lamented that “it is a crime to be poor in Singapore” while u/fallenspaceman summed up the authorities’ reaction as a “stunning display of lack of empathy.”

Some pointed out that Jackson was only using the pavilion from 3am and 6am, in response to the prosecution’s argument that he rendered the area unusable for other park visitors. Asking who exactly Jackson was inconveniencing, netizens said that the authorities missed the opportunity to help a Singaporean in need.

u/annoyingrandomperson said: “So instead of helping the homeless person, they gave him a fine that he couldn’t pay, then they jailed him. Wow.”

Others highlighted the Singapore government’s former stance that there are no homeless people in Singapore and questioned the genuineness of the Government’s recent efforts to reach out to the homeless.

The Singapore government had for many years maintained the stance that there are no homeless people in the country and that homelessness is not a significant issue, unlike in other nations.

Activists, however, have argued that the government’s stance does not accurately reflect the reality on the ground and the authorities punish homeless individuals and families caught sleeping in the public instead of helping them.

This had led the homeless to fear the authorities, instead of relying on government agencies to give them a hand up.

Years of advocacy by local activists has now resulted in the Government acknowledging homeless individuals and rough sleepers here.

Ruling party politicians even post on social media about reaching out to rough sleepers in their constituencies – posts that would never have been allowed to be published just a few years ago, because it doesn’t align with the government’s former narrative.

Despite this, activists hold that gaps clearly remain and more must be done with greater compassion to uplift those in Singapore society who are at risk of being left behind.

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