By Benson Ang
IT is the largest family to stay at the Darussalam Mosque to date.
The group of nine - a man, his ex-wife and their seven children aged 6 to 16 - has been staying there for more than a week now because the father could not afford a roof over their heads.
Mr Ahmad (not his real name), 49, does not think he has too many kids.
He said that although he has divorced his ex-wife, 38, she is still living with him. He did not want us to speak to her.
He acknowledged that some people have commented that his family is too big and he should have had better family planning.
"But I just ignore them and smile. The truth is that God gave me seven children, so I accepted them all."
Security officer Mr Ahmad, who has been working as a security officer in a condominium for more than 20 years, earns $1,400 a month. But paying rent and the living expenses of his children have wiped out these earnings.
He said he had only $100 in savings, although his CPF account contained $35,000. It is his large family and poor financial planning which have led to his present circumstances.
We are not identifying him to protect his children.
Just two years ago, Mr Ahmad owned a three-room flat in Bukit Batok and was coping well with the monthly $450 payments to HDB.
He said that when he and his wife were divorced in 2007, he agreed to sell the flat, which was his first mistake.
He then used his share of the proceeds - $30,000 - to rent another flat for a year, paying $1,300 monthly. To date, Mr Ahmad has bought and sold three HDB flats.
But he used up all the profits, and when the rent rose last year, he was forced to rent single rooms instead. He said his ex-wife was living with him throughout, as "a friend". He declined to reveal what happened to her share of the profits.
Within two years, he moved six times, living in Bukit Batok, Jurong East, Jurong West and Teck Whye. The reason he gave for moving frequently is that landlords could not stand so many people living in one room.
After the most recent time he was told to move, which was two weeks ago, he was willing to pay $600 for a room.
But after answering five advertisements, he said he could not find a landlord willing to take in so many people for that amount.
He said he approached his parents, four brothers and three sisters for help. But he claimed all of them could not help him or were unwilling to. This also could not be verified because he would not let us contact them.
"We had nowhere to go. I felt like a loser, because I'm their father. I tried my best and still could not give them a place to stay."
Then Mr Ahmad learnt about a family who was accepted by the mosque after spending a night in a lift lobby and approached the mosque for help.
On 16 Oct, the family moved into the mosque, staying in a room meant for its youth wing.
Mr Abdul Mutalif Hashim, 49, the executive director of Darussalam Mosque, said the mosque actually has no facilities to house people, but he makes an exception for truly needy cases.
These are desperate cases, such as people who have been left out on the streets. And he qualifies that even these people can stay in the mosque only temporarily.
During their stay, Mr Ahmad got his children to attend the free tuition sessions at the mosque on Friday afternoons.
He has also encouraged them to read whatever books they can find in the mosque because he doesn't want them to "waste their time there".
When we spoke to Mr Ahmad's children last week, one of them, 13, said he was "okay" with living in the mosque, but said there was nothing for them to play with other than a cat which frequented the place.
They will move into a shelter run by New Hope Community Services later in the week.
They will have to pay about $150 a month to stay in this shelter and can stay there for up to three months. They can also ask for an extension.
The New Paper understands that there are also other agencies helping the family.
Mr Ahmad said: "I feel guilty for not being able to give my children a home. I feel like I failed them as a father."
"I hope that when HDB helps me, I can rebuild my life so I can redeem myself in their eyes.
"I would give anything to turn back time. I just want everything to go back to normal again."\
This article was first published in The New Paper.