No bed to lay his head, for 17 years

Mr Ridsdale spent almost two decades on the streets before moving into a Roman Catholic welfare home last August. The staff there helped him apply for public assistance.
Mr Ridsdale spent almost two decades on the streets before moving into a Roman Catholic welfare home last August. The staff there helped him apply for public assistance.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

For 17 years, Mr David Ridsdale slept sitting up, in the same chair, at the same table outside a restaurant in China Square Central. Slumped over the table, a numbness would sometimes set in.

One strap of his backpack would be looped over his thigh to deter thieves, even though it held only a change of clothes, some soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush and towel.

But with age catching up, Mr Ridsdale, 69, moved into the St Vincent Home for poor senior citizens, in Waterloo Street, last August.

The former lorry attendant and factory worker recalled the first night he had a bed after years of sleeping in a chair.

"It felt funny and I kept tossing and turning till 3am. I had back pain and the bed felt hard," he said.

Mr Ridsdale has since adjusted so well that he has put on weight and his old trousers no longer fit.

The bachelor and only child said he found himself without a roof over his head after he sold his three-room HDB flat in Bukit Batok in 1989. His aunt told him she could care for his mother but there was no space for him.

His mother died in 2008 and he has never known his father.

He used the proceeds from his flat to stay in budget hotels for five years. When it became too expensive, he started renting an HDB room but decided to live as an itinerant after problems with landlords.

Mr Ridsdale's first "home" was a Starbucks cafe, before he settled on therestaurant.Every morning, he woke and left by 5.30am, as the first shift of restaurant workers arrived.

He would use a public toilet to freshen up before making his way to the Singapore Buddhist Lodge for a free vegetarian breakfast. He also had lunch and dinner there.

He spent his days at Fort Canning Park or the library at the Esplanade. A fellow vagrant showed him how to pick up money, mobile phones and ez-link cards left behind by revellers at Boat Quay or Clarke Quay.

Mr Ridsdale now gets about $750 a month in government aid. At St Vincent, he can go out any time, as long as he returns by 10pm.

The film buff likes to watch movies at the Cathay cinema. He also exercises, plays bingo and tries to get along with other elderly residents.

"I am happy that I have a home. I am a bachelor and I don't care so much," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'No bed to lay his head, for 17 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe