A little less Nimby

The Lions Home for the Elders has been operating in Bishan Street 13 for more than a year and some residents have since become volunteers there.
The Lions Home for the Elders has been operating in Bishan Street 13 for more than a year and some residents have since become volunteers there.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Resistance to eldercare facilities has given way to more acceptance, even a welcoming attitude

In 2012, residents in areas such as Bishan, Woodlands and Jalan Batu expressed resistance to the news that eldercare facilities would be built in their neighbourhoods.

But despite earlier petitions - which some called the "Nimby" or "not in my backyard" syndrome - many have accepted - and, in some cases, grown to embrace - the facilities that they once opposed.

In turn, service providers are making an effort to be considerate to their neighbours.

Five years ago, about 40 residents signed a petition against a nursing home that was set to be built on an empty plot of land facing blocks of flats in Bishan Street 13.

One man said at a dialogue session that "the old folk will be groaning right into my home".

NEW REALISATION

There is a need to be accommodating. We're all going to grow old some day.

PRE-SCHOOL TEACHER KOH HUI WAH, whose flat faces the Lions home in Bishan.


OPINIONS CHANGE

People tend to be resistant when changes are announced, but when they reap the benefits, they change their minds.

JALAN BATU RESIDENT RAYMOND TAY

Such sentiment has dissipated. Residents encourage tolerance over minor issues. Some now even volunteer at the home.

The Lions Home for the Elders is set to mark its official opening next month, having been operating for more than a year, and has become "accepted as an integral part of the town", MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Chong Kee Hiong told The Sunday Times.

"Some residents have family members who are residing in the home and find the proximity a welcome convenience. There are also residents who have taken to volunteering at the home."

This was despite teething issues, such as the complaint that the home's public announcement system was loud, he said. It has since adjusted the system's placement and volume, and informs residents ahead of special events.

When contacted, the home declined to comment.

NEED FOR TOLERANCE

Pre-school teacher Koh Hui Wah, 58, whose flat is one of a few facing the home, often hears cutlery and dishes being washed, as well as elderly residents' voices.

But she is unfazed. "There is a need to be accommodating. We're all going to grow old some day."

Similarly, in 2012, a group of Jalan Batu residents signed a petition opposing plans for rehabilitation centres for seniors to be built in the void decks of Blocks 10 and 11.

But feedback has been positive since the centres opened in 2013, according to Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan.

"We had an open house, inviting residents from Block 11 to come down," he said. "A number of those who signed the petition, who were concerned, seemed relieved that it was not as bad as they thought, and they recognised that it would be a useful facility for them."

He said that the centre is helpful as there is a large proportion of elderly Housing Board residents in the area - up to two-fifths of the population - with many using wheelchairs because of strokes or amputations.

Crane operator and Jalan Batu resident Raymond Tay, 62, said: "People tend to be resistant when changes are announced, but when they reap the benefits, they change their minds."

SOME STILL HAVE DOUBTS

In Woodlands Street 83, the mood is more sombre, although the Sree Narayana Mission, which runs the eldercare centre at the void deck of two HDB blocks, is making efforts to bond with residents.

When the Health Ministry announced plans for the centre in 2012, about nine-tenths of Block 861 residents signed a petition against it.

Ms Ellen Lee, then the MP, struck a compromise in which residents would also get several new features in the block, such as a sheltered walkway to the carpark and a study corner.

Current MP Amrin Amin said: "Since then, the town council has not received any more complaints or feedback about the centre from residents."

While the study corner is seldom used, the facility's senior administrative executive Annie Leong said residents' complaints over issues like ambulance sirens died down about two years ago, after the centre asked the vehicles to switch off their sirens when in the estate.

She added that the HDB residents may not often attend the centre's events, but they have become more friendly over the years.

"We hope to try our best and have more community activities involving both residents of the HDB blocks and the users of our centre."

But for some residents, the loss of void deck space remains a bitter pill to swallow. A 60-year-old unemployed man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang, said: "If the authorities want to build such a centre, we have no choice either."

A self-employed man, who gave his name only as Mr Goh, 51, added: "Sometimes, when I come home, I see the old folk around and it feels like I'm living in a nursing home - just upstairs from them."

THE WAY FORWARD

The MPs emphasised that with an ageing population, the need for eldercare facilities will only become more acute.

"The availability of such facilities within residential estates would enhance the quality of care that family members can access... with much greater convenience," said Mr Chong, adding that it is reasonable for people to be concerned about what happens around their estate.

Mr Amrin said residents should be engaged early to prevent misconceptions. To address concerns, "we should also keep our lines of communication open throughout the implementation process".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'A little less Nimby'. Print Edition | Subscribe