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Protecting society’s most vulnerable

Protecting society’s most vulnerable

THAILAND: Aside from medical personnel and other state officials at the forefront of the country’’ fight against the new coronavirus outbreak, there still are small groups of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working behind the scenes reaching out to groups with the least access to state welfare and assistance during the outbreak.

CoronavirusCOVID-19charityhealth
By Bangkok Post

Friday 10 April 2020, 12:45PM


A homeless person with a face mask sits next to a street banner urging people to wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus outside Hua Lamphong railway station. Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool.

A homeless person with a face mask sits next to a street banner urging people to wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus outside Hua Lamphong railway station. Photo: Arnun Chonmahatrakool.

The Israchon Foundation, for instance, is continuing to help homeless people in Sakae alley and areas surrounding Klong Lot canal. The foundation took a corner behind the Rattanakosin Hotel as its so-called field office to offer care and assistance to homeless people.

To be more precise, a table and chair were placed there while Adchara Saravari, secretary-general of the foundation, works to ensure the safety and welfare of about 300 homeless people in these cluttered areas of the capital.

These people took corners at Sanam Luang and on nearby roads and in nearby areas - Ratchadamnoen Avenue, Chalermkrung and Yaowarat - as their shelters, said Ms Adchara who sometimes works with state officials to help the homeless in other areas as well, namely Hua Lamphong, Victory Monument, Sam Sen, Bang Sue and Mo Chit.

Her work involves seeking donations from passers-by, which normally come in the form of money donated directly to the foundation or through basic necessities. They include face masks and hand-sanitiser at the moment.

The foundation has about 10 other people in its team responsible for distributing basic necessities to the homeless, both at the makeshift field office and in other parts of the neighbourhood, she said.

“At the start of the outbreak we went out to find homeless people and offer them help and gave them basic necessities on Tuesday and Sunday evenings. Now we go out almost every day,” she said.

Along with giving them free stuff, the foundation is also trying to educate the homeless on how to protect themselves from COVID-19.

In Sakae alley, foundation staff use a thermometer to check homeless people’s temperature. And when they go out to meet more people, they always teach them the importance of washing their hands properly and urge them not to share spoons or dishes when eating.

“We even warn those living as a couple to avoid cuddling, kissing and having sex at this time,” she said.

Most, however, appear to be cooperating.”At the very least, they are now wearing face masks,” she said.

Surprisingly, most homeless people she meets are well-informed about the COVID-19 situation and updates by the media, especially things that would directly affect them, said Ms Adchara.

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When the government invoked the emergency decree, these people were extremely worried about being detained and put into a state shelter, she said.

They do not want to live in a shelter because 80% of them can still earn a living, through scavenging, for example, while the rest are either alcoholics or drug addicts, she said.

“We tried to convince state officials to agree to allow the homeless to remain where they were, because moving the homeless to shelters in other provinces could see them running away and possibly infecting others, if they have the virus,” she said.

Only a small number who were considered at high risk of contracting COVID-19 were screened and taken away for proper health care, while none of the others have shown signs of infection so far, she said.

For people interested in donating hand-sanitising gels, she said the foundation would prefer gel that comes in small refillable containers, which are more suitable for distribution to the homeless.

Asked if she was worried about contracting the virus in the course of her work, Ms Adchara, a single mother with a five-year-old child, admitted it was a major concern. But she said years of experience working with homeless has taught her how to avoid being infected by communicable diseases.

“I wear a face mask every day and wash my hands frequently. And when I get home after work, I normally take a bath straight away and change clothes,” she said, adding she couldn’t afford to risk infecting her family.

Those wanting to help the homeless during this outbreak are encouraged to help as many people as possible and not single out one or a few over others, she said.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security last week launched its “We Will Not Leave Each Other” project to provide food and shelter for vulnerable people.

In addition to helping the homeless, the ministry hopes shelters will also help [vulnerable] children, the elderly and disabled people, Minister Chuti Krairiksh said.

Free meals, a clean room and washing facilities are provided. Those wishing to donate can contact the 1300 hotline.

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