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Homelessness in Thailand: "Many get sick because they fish food from the garbage"


They lost their health, jobs, families and often also their homes: In Bangkok, more and more people are slipping into poverty, especially older people over 50. The state is failing them, soup kitchens are their last resort.

In the course of life people make mistakes.

You take a wrong turn.

Things happen to them.

Sometimes the worst shit happens and you have no control over it, like getting hit by a car or losing your job on the assembly line.

The important thing, says helper Atchara Sorawaree, is that everyone has a system around them that brings them back to a life that is okay.

That could be family, friends, state support.

“We all need someone to give us a hand from time to time.

The people we meet every Tuesday haven't had people like that for a long time.«

Pravet for example.

Caught by a car while walking three years ago at Khok Wua Intersection, Ratchadamnoen Road, not far from the big river in Bangkok.

Before that he always had money and an apartment, sold toys and gifts to Buddhists


Sometimes worked in construction.

After the accident he had no money, no apartment, no job.

It took a year and a half before he could walk halfway again, he says.

Prawet began to drink, mostly rice liquor, realizing that once he starts the bottle he doesn't put it down until it's empty.

Prawet is 52 years old, and he says his family doesn't want anything to do with him.

He now lives on the street.

"I've seen a lot of people get hit by cars that lose everything," he says.

"They stand in line here every Tuesday, like me."

The queue of the needy slowly builds up on this Tuesday afternoon in November.

Along the canal of Trok Sakae Street, in Bangkok's Phra Nakhon district.

There are more and more, at some point around 500 men and women between the ages of 50 and 80. The younger ones are too proud to stand in line here to get help, says Prawet.

And there are a particularly large number of old people who need help.

The Issarachon Foundation distributes food here once a week.

It is a small organization in Thailand's capital that has been providing homeless people with warm meals, treating wounds, distributing clothing and providing assistance for more than 20 years.

For people who have fallen through the social safety net, which is looser in Thailand than in most European countries.

Issarachon works with the Ministry of Social Development, but finances the aid almost exclusively through donations.

Depending on how much money is raised in a month, the cardboard boxes are filled with more or less food.

Atchara Sorawaree is one of the main organizers, standing under an awning at the table where the food boxes are distributed.

"Many poorer people get sick because they fish and eat food from the garbage," she reports.

»Due to the heat in Bangkok, waste spoils particularly quickly.

That's why we came up with the idea


One Clean Meal – one clean meal a week

.« Usually a box consists of fried vegetables and chicken with rice, cooked by small street kitchens that the foundation trusts.

During the corona crisis, the queues were particularly long.

The organization also set up another table where medical students vaccinated the homeless and other needy people against Covid-19.

In the meantime, the students also treat open wounds and skin rashes and refer them to the hospital.

“Most of the people who come to us don't have access to the state welfare system.

Others do not know how to settle costs with the health insurance company.

Or they have no papers to identify themselves.

You are afraid to go to a clinic.

It always saddens me to see how many are abandoned by the state,” says Sorawaree.

Officially, between 3,000 and 4,000 men and women live on the streets of Bangkok.

That doesn't sound like much for a city with more than ten million inhabitants.

In comparison: according to Diakonie, there are around a thousand homeless people for every 100,000 inhabitants in Hamburg.

But Atchara Sorawaree says the statistics aren't being kept properly in Bangkok.

Her feeling: In the pandemic and due to the rising food and living costs in 2022, the number of those who can no longer afford rent has risen sharply.

Due to inflation and the many crises in recent years, life in Thailand's capital has become much more expensive.

There were large waves of layoffs and factories were closed for a long time.

In Thailand, says helper Sorawaree, many have to work into old age.

The state pension system

often pay out the equivalent of just 20 euros a month in old age.

There are all kinds of supplementary insurances – too complicated for many.

The extended family often continues to replace the welfare state, with the young helping the old.

In the coming years, however, the number of people over 60 in Thailand will increase dramatically , from 13 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in 2040. And there will be fewer young people to care for them: since 2013 the birth rate decreased by almost a third.

The poverty rate among the elderly is already particularly high, and many only become homeless in old age.


People who live on the streets usually have nobody.

Families reject them because they are considered "dirty, scary, shameful."

This in turn leads to mental problems, depression, anxiety disorders, and makes people more susceptible to alcohol and drugs.

For example, there is Saroj, 60 years old, who always comes to the food distribution with a small trolley.

Who the Issarachon volunteers believe is somewhat demented.

What if the disease gets worse?

Retirement homes are not a common facility in Thailand and are very expensive.

There is Wanida, 51, whose purse was stolen the other day while she was sleeping on the sidewalk, along with her ID card.

Now she feels like she has no proof that she even exists.

This is very stressful for her.

Wanida receives support from her son, 20 euros here, ten euros there.

But she is ashamed because she knows that her child does not have much money.

Her motivation and that of her fellow campaigners is to give back some of the dignity to the people on the streets of Bangkok, says Sorawaree.

Hope and dreams, as far away as they may seem for those who have had their lunch on the sidewalk for years

spoon out of cardboard boxes.

But the most important thing of all is to listen and be there.

Collaboration: Dead Krittin

This contribution is part of the Global Society project

Expand areaWhat is the Global Society project?

Under the title "Global Society", reporters from

Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe

report on injustices in a globalized world, socio-political challenges and sustainable development.

The reports, analyses, photo series, videos and podcasts appear in a separate section in SPIEGEL's international section.

The project is long-term and is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

A detailed FAQ with questions and answers about the project can be found here.

AreaWhat does the funding look like in concrete terms?open

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been supporting the project since 2019 for an initial period of three years with a total of around 2.3 million euros - around 760,000 euros per year.

In 2021, the project was extended by almost three and a half years until spring 2025 under the same conditions.

AreaIs the journalistic content independent of the foundation?open


The editorial content is created without the influence of the Gates Foundation.

AreaDo other media also have similar projects?open


Major European media outlets such as The Guardian and El País have set up similar sections on their news sites with Global Development and Planeta Futuro, respectively, with the support of the Gates Foundation.

Did SPIEGEL already have similar projects? open

In recent years, SPIEGEL has already implemented two projects with the European Journalism Center (EJC) and the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: the "OverMorgen Expedition" on global sustainability goals and the journalistic refugee project "The New Arrivals ", within the framework of which several award-winning multimedia reports on the topics of migration and flight have been created.

Expand areaWhere can I find all publications on the Global Society?

The pieces can be found at SPIEGEL on the Global Society topic page.

Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2022-12-17

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