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Hire me: a lifeline for the homeless in the Thai capital

By Rungroj Yongrit

Bangkok, April 25 (EFE).- Along a sidewalk along a canal in Bangkok’s Old Town, a group of about 20 elderly people sweep up dry leaves, collect trash and plant flowers.

They wear yellow aprons emblazoned with the words ‘Jang Wan Ka’ – Thai for ‘Rent Me’ – a slogan for the project of the same name that provides support to the homeless and elderly on low incomes in Thailand’s bustling capital.

“The Hire Me project is mainly aimed at hiring the homeless and also helping the elderly who have no income and have been left alone (without work or family support), which can lead them to homelessness,” says Benjamas Pangam, the project coordinator . EPA images.

Nopporn Boonpong, a 50-year-old who became homeless during the Covid-19 pandemic, sweeps a sidewalk during a ‘Hire Me’ project job in the Phra Nakhon district of Bangkok, Thailand, February 27, 2024 (released April 25, 2024) . EFE/EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

The project pays 250 baht (about €6.75) for half a day of work cleaning and maintaining public areas.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET OFF THE STREET

Benjamas says the project is working with Bangkok’s district offices to create jobs that will help people earn money for basic needs, so they can stop relying on free food parcels and eventually pay rent and get off the streets.

While newcomers to the project are hired for two half days a week for street work, those who have been working with the foundation for longer and have earned enough to afford a home are eligible to work five days a week for 500 baht per day . positions that require more responsibility, such as repairing electrical appliances such as microwaves and fans.

These participants are part of the Slow Engineering program, which employs older technicians to refurbish and sell donated electronic devices to support the foundation’s funding.

Narong Taepalai, 65, was homeless but now works five days a week repairing electrical appliances.

After years of traveling around the country doing odd jobs, he eventually found work repairing electronic devices — until he lost his job during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hire Me is one of the few job providers that gives older people like him a chance at paid work, he says.

“I have no family, I am alone. And I’m getting old, so no company or company would want to hire me, then I would be homeless.”

COVID IMPACT

Homeless people do laundry at the Fresh Station, a place that provides free bathroom and laundry services for the homeless in Bangkok, Thailand, March 1, 2024 (released April 25, 2024). EFE/EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

Currently, the Hire Me project supports 240 homeless participants, 75 of whom have transitioned into rental housing thanks to their income from the initiative.

The project was launched in 2020, during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit Thailand – a country heavily dependent on international tourism – particularly hard.

Many workers who depended on foreign visitors to Bangkok lost their jobs and became homeless because they could not pay the rent.

Nopporn Boonpong, 50, sold tickets on tourist boats on the Chao Phraya River that flows through Bangkok.

“Because of Covid-19, there were no tourists for years, so I had no money to pay the rent and had to live on the street,” says Nopporn.

After working for months at Hire Me in the street auction, he now works five days a week in the warehouse of the Mirror Foundation.

EVERY LITTLE LITTLE HELP

While the pandemic caused a spike in the city’s homeless population — the Mirror Foundation estimates there are about 2,500 people living on Bangkok’s streets — there are many who have struggled with homelessness for years.

Sombat Krajaechan – a 62-year-old from Loei province on the Laos border in northeastern Thailand – says his wife left him after he was conscripted into the army 30 years ago. Since he started doing odd jobs, he “wandered around Thailand.”

“Since January I have been hired to work two days a week, but the other five days I have nothing to do and (earn) no money. I live on donated food and use the free toilet at the Versstation. I sleep here on this street and sometimes I move to another street nearby,” says Sombat.

Located under a bridge over the Chao Phraya, the Fresh Station provides bathroom and laundry services to the homeless. It also serves as a monthly recruitment point for Hire Me.

Homeless senior citizen Dara Naklerk, 86, receives his paycheck after completing a ‘Hire Me’ cleaning job in a public space in Bangkok, Thailand, February 27, 2024 (released April 25, 2024). EFE/EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

Just beyond that bridge, 58-year-old Jintana Duanyai – nicknamed Maew – lays her head every night. She explains how her life has improved since joining the project, even though she only works two days a week and still has trouble sleeping.

“I sleep here next to the Khlong Lod (a canal that runs right behind the royal Grand Palace),” says Maew.

“If I had enough money, I would like to rent a room to live in instead of sleeping on the street, but now I only work two days a week and that is not enough. But this work is still better than having nothing to do. At least I can work and earn money,” she says. EFE

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