BANGKOK — An advocate for Bangkok’s homeless population on Thursday decried the state railway’s decision to shut the Bangkok Railway Station, or Hua Lamphong, to the people who regularly sleep there overnight.
Last night the terminal abruptly ended its longstanding policy of allowing people to sleep within by making it off limits to them from 11:30pm to 3am. Natee Sarawaree, an activist with a foundation that provides aid to the homeless population, said the decision is bad not only for those who used the station as a safe place to sleep, but the community as well.
“This will affect Bangkok directly. Now, the homeless who used to sleep in the station will have to sleep and [go to toilet] along Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem, disturbing everyone else,” Natee of the Issarachon Foundation said. “You have to take care of people too, not just of places.”
The change in policy came hours after photos of people sleeping in the station were posted at just after midnight early Wednesday morning. The images were posted to the massively popular YouLike page, where they received little attention.
Natee says Hua Lamphong has always been a haven for the homeless.
“Homeless people have two main concerns about space, which are places to sleep and go to the toilet. At Hua Lamphong, they could sleep in the terminal and use the station’s bathroom,” he said. “It was a place that allowed them to be visible to society as well as solved some of the homeless issues.”
Anon Luengboriboon, director-general of security at the State Railway of Thailand, said Thursday that homeless people are a security liability.
“Before, homeless people would sleep all night inside the station after all the trains had left, risking theft and arson,” Anon said. “It’s a social security burden.”
Natee, however, insisted that there haven’t been any incidents to prompt concerns about security. He believes the state railway is using the photos as an excuse to clean up the station since it was close to the MRT subway system, which will soon open a new extension connecting there.
But Anon said the station isn’t just kicking them out without a plan to support them.
“We aren’t abandoning them,” he said. “Since October we launched a program for social security and police officers to register homeless people, help them find jobs, check on their health or reunite them with their families.”
Natee agreed that a “sizable amount” of homeless people have been helped by registering with security officials at the station.
“Few homeless approach the table to register themselves, but many are registered when security officials approach them,” he said. “Many were sent home or got jobs.”
Anon said the homeless people who slept or loitered at the station during the day need rehabilitation and help, not just a place to stay. “However, it’s normal for people with tickets for the train to nap there during the day. We’ll continue to allow that of course, since most people who ride on trains have low incomes.”