Homeless folk offered lifeline

A new shelter provides beds, hot meals and job training to Bangkok's less fortunate

Some of the city's homeless will have a roof over their heads and hot meals with the recent opening of a shelter in Pomprap Sattruphai district.

Some homeless and poor people spend the night at the Baan Imjai shelter in Pomprap Sattruphai district of Bangkok. PATIPAT JANTHONG

Baan Imjai shelter, which opened on Nov 10, serves as a refuge for the homeless as well as an alternative for low-income earners who cannot afford the city's private lodgings.

There are now 1,093 homeless people in the capital. Of them, 922 are men, 141 women and 30 children, according to a survey conducted last year by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)'s Social Development Department.

Past efforts by the city administration to house the homeless were futile. Many refused to be lodged in shelters away from the city as they have odd jobs in the city centre. They also feared their freedom might be restricted if they were sent to public shelters.

After the BMA barred the homeless and vendors from entering Sanam Luang, a popular hangout for the homeless, it started working on the "Baan Imjai" (uplifted heart) project.

Jaroon Methanathavorn, deputy director of the BMA's Social Development Department, said Baan Imjai was located on land owned by the Crown Property Bureau.

The three-storey building that serves as the shelter used to house the offices of the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority.

After the waterworks office moved to Sam Sen, the BMA obtained a lease from the bureau, Mr Jaroon, who is responsible for the shelter project, said.

The city administration spent about 14 million baht turning the three-storey building into a shelter. It purchased bunk beds, blankets, pillows and bedclothes, said Mr Jaroon.

The building has been modified, with an office, an activity hall and a registration venue on the first floor, female dormitories on the second floor and male dormitories on the third floor.

The shelter can accommodate up to 400 people a day, the department deputy chief said.

Those eligible to stay must be Thai nationals, with no record of serious communicable diseases, drug use, mental disorder or criminal behaviour.

They are required to show their identity cards or any official cards. Registration officials will take down personal information of those who have no cards to show, Mr Jaroon said.

Toothbrushes, soap, detergent, blankets and pillows will be provided free of charge at the shelter. Lockers are also available.

Occupants must strictly abide by the shelter's rules by keeping themselves clean, taking care of state property and not disturbing others. Smoking and drinking are prohibited.

The shelter has installed closed-circuit cameras throughout the premises.

The facility provides two free meals a day: Dinner from 6-7pm and breakfast from 7-8am. Tenants must check out at 9am every day and can check in again from 3-10pm if they have no place to go.

Wanida Ruangdej, a social worker at Baan Imjai, said the shelter attracted only a few people each day when it first opened. Now, about 40 people, mostly males, check in every day.

From Nov 10-30, a total of 427 people used the shelter. About 20 of them are regular tenants, Ms Wanida said.

Those who stay at the shelter are mostly vagabonds hanging around Sanam Luang and the adjacent Ratchadamnoen Avenue.

During the renovation of Sanam Luang, many homeless people returned to their home provinces or worked far from Baan Imjai, Ms Wanida said.

As the shelter has only just opened, many homeless people may have no idea the place offers overnight accommodation, free meals and even occupational training.

"Those staying at the shelter are free to go out, but they must leave the shelter at 9am every day," the social worker said.

Ae (real name withheld), 32, a regular tenant at the shelter, said he left Ayutthaya province several years ago to study in Bangkok. After completing Mathayom Suksa 6 (Grade 12), he worked at a factory.

He often changed his work due to problems at his workplace. He later worked as a hired hand before ending up on the streets.

He slept on the pavement in Sanam Luang until the ground was closed for good.

Ae said he knew about the shelter through a friend.

Bee, 63, from Sing Buri, said he read about the shelter in a newspaper.

He moved to Bangkok after separating from his wife. He earlier worked as a security guard and later quit the job.

Before he came to the shelter, he mostly slept in the compounds of public libraries and parks.

He has stayed at Baan Imjai for five days and he was satisfied with its service, which he said was beyond his expectations.

Chee, 21, a deaf-mute man from Lop Buri, said through sign language that he has stayed at the shelter for four days.

He earned his living as a porter at Pak Khlong Talard market. Before staying at the shelter, he spent the night at the fresh market and slept near Memorial Bridge as he could not afford the rent.

About the author

Writer: Supoj Wancharoen
Position: Reporter