Sanam Luang – a shelter for homeless and displaced

Homeless at Sanam Luang

Homeless at Sanam Luang

Over the past several decades, Bangkok’s historic plaza Sanam Luang has witnessed Thailand’s major political changes. It also serves as venue for royal ceremonies and entertainment for the public. And in the time of an economic slump, Sanam Luang has also become a shelter for hundreds of homeless people. The city’s plaza means much more for many lives.

Against the magnificent backdrop of the illuminated Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace, a great number of homeless and displaced hit the sacks around Sanam Luang night after night.

Among them is Uncle Song Kaewmee from Petchabun. He says he cannot catch the last bus home, while Uncle Pol Pongseeda from Chiang Rai says Sanam Laung is his ‘home’ for three months after long hard days of work. Nothing but rain will chase him away.

“I’m not scared because I know the mat renter. She usually walks around to take care of her customers. Nothing to worry about. I will stay here until April as the rainy season is coming. Then it’s not good for sleeping anymore,” said Uncle Pol Pongseeda, a Sanam Luang sleeper.

Come rain or shine…it doesn’t matter for a mat renter like Auntie Add.

“Rain and thunder can never stop me to come here. I never have a holiday as I want to come here everyday. So Sanam Luang can’t be closed. A lot of people will be affected, including me,” said auntie Add.

Renting mats to the homeless for 15 years has been a proven income source for Auntie Add. Nearly 100 mats are rented out each night. There are also seven other mat renters in the area.

The number of homeless and displaced persons sleeping at Sanam Luang has doubled to 400 recently, due to the economic slowdown, according to the non-governmental organisation Habitat.

Many also make a living at Sanam Luang, in roles ranging from traditional masseuses to midnight vendors, plying their trade on the sidewalks every night.

Some of the merchants told Thai News Agency they had to pay at least ten baht for unofficial collectors for cleaning, while mat-renting operators were said to pay about one thousand baht a week to run their business.

Despite the dark and rough atmosphere, some visitors say the midnight market remains attractive, but nonetheless have some comments for city authorities.

“There should be more police patrolling this area. Of course I still want this night market but the atmosphere should not be rough,” said a visitor.

In response to the public’s request, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra says City Hall will solve the problem of some homeless using Sanam Luang as their night shelter, install more light bulbs, and do away with unauthorised vendors… aimed at creating a favourable and safer place for everyone. – (TNA)