All lorry couple want is home for baby

Mr Ong and his wife eat and sleep on the back of his lorry. They cook on a portable stove and sleep on cardboard. The deliveryman, who has been living on his lorry with his pregnant wife, hopes to be able to rent a room by the time their baby is born
Mr Ong and his wife eat and sleep on the back of his lorry. They cook on a portable stove and sleep on cardboard. The deliveryman, who has been living on his lorry with his pregnant wife, hopes to be able to rent a room by the time their baby is born.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

Driver, who lives with wife on lorry, not eligible for new flat but cannot afford a resale one

Since news of his plight broke, deliveryman Ong Poh Hwa, 44, and his pregnant wife have received a flurry of visitors at Changi Beach, where they park the lorry they call home.

Thursday night's visitors included Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) officers, who told The Straits Times they were there to "better understand his current situation".

Mr Ong's story of how he and his pregnant Vietnamese wife live in the lorry he drives for work appeared in Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao on Wednesday.

The couple get up at 3.30am to start his delivery job, then park the lorry at night at Changi Beach, where they use the public toilets to wash up and do their laundry. They then go to sleep on sheets of cardboard in the back of the open vehicle.

"We have referred Mr Ong to a family service centre for a more thorough assessment of his circumstances and needs so appropriate help can be rendered," said an MSF spokesman. Mr Ong said he would visit the family service centre as soon as he can, given his six-day work schedule and the centre's operating hours, but stressed it was not monetary aid he needs.

PROPER HOME NEEDED

I want to be able to rent a place for my child... We are struggling because my wife's stomach is getting bigger and we need a proper home to live in.

'' MR ONG POH HWA, whose home with his wife is the lorry he drives

"I just want a roof over our heads for my wife and baby," he said in Mandarin.

Last night, the couple were on the bed of their lorry tucking into a dinner of fried rice bought from a coffee shop. Mr Ong's wife, Ms Nguyen Thi Phu Vinh, 34, usually cooks rice and fish or meat on a portable stove but she was not feeling well.

The couple met while Mr Ong worked in Vietnam from 2009 to 2013 for a rice exporter. He had left Singapore after he and his first wife divorced and sold their three-room flat.

His current wife joined him in Singapore in April last year, they registered their marriage in June, and she applied for a long- term visit pass last November.

Mr Ong said he is estranged from his parents, three siblings and his two children, who are in their early 20s.

He returned to Singapore in 2013 and lived with an uncle, before renting a room for $650 after his uncle got married. He moved out of the rented room after four months, opting to tough it out in his vehicle instead.

While offers of help have flooded in, Mr Ong said he did not need more money.

"We have enough to get by daily. We also have nowhere to keep donations," he said.

His wife, now 18 weeks pregnant, is finding it harder to climb up and down the vehicle. "If it was just the two of us, it's okay. But I really want a home for the baby."

Mr Ong cannot buy a new flat with his non-citizen spouse as he is not a first-time applicant for a subsidised flat.

HDB said he can buy a resale flat from the open market, but Mr Ong said he cannot afford one on his salary.

Nonetheless, they do not qualify for an HDB rental flat as their total household income a month exceeds $1,500 and his wife is not a citizen.

And rather than rent a room on his $1,900 salary, he said he would save the money for the baby he intends to name Jia Kang, or "healthy home".

"A room is going to cost $800. After CPF deduction, I have only $1,600. And most rental rooms don't allow cooking," he said.

He considered having the baby in Vietnam, but thought he would have a better future here.

"I don't care about the size of the house, I just need a home for my wife until she has the baby. And when my son is born, I can apply for a flat using his name and mine," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'All lorry couple want is home for baby'. Print Edition | Subscribe