Legal changes aim to help homeless help themselves
People living on streets should no longer be invisible to public: Human Security MinistryNonexistent, an eyesore or a social problem? No matter how the homeless are labelled, under a new law they have become people society has to pay attention to.
"Police have to extend support to authorities in assisting the homeless. And if any of them is mentally ill, we must find a way to take them in for treatment," Ngamjit Taesuwa, chief of Mitrmaitree Home, a shelter under the supervision of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, said yesterday.
Under revisions to the 2008 Mental Health Act, authorities are tasked with helping homeless people secure the means to stand on their own two feet.
Sittipon Chuprajong, who works for a non-governmental organisation, defines homeless patients as street people with mental disorders.
"We have managed to reach out to seven or eight homeless patients already. We have visited them to build confidence and trust. We have chatted with them. We have helped them with bathing and nail clipping. If they fall sick, we provide basic care," he said.
His project is planning to send one of its patients to a psychiatric hospital soon.
"We will let a psychiatrist determine whether he should stay at the hospital or a welfare centre," he said.
Ngamjit said people in general could help out a lot.
"Residents of communities must notice people living on the streets. So if they agree to help, there's a possibility that those homeless will get needed treatment and then perhaps can go back to a normal life," she said.
While some of those roaming the streets already show symptoms of mental problems, they can still talk coherently.
"If they receive timely treatment, they will still be able to return to work and communicate quite well with others," she said.
Some homeless and mentally ill people become rather aggressive when approached. That's because they feel they need to defend themselves.
"When I first started working for the cause of the homeless and tried to get close to them, they hurled stones and bottles at me," said Adchara Saravari of the Issrachon Foundation.
At first she did not understand their reactions but did not give up.
"Finally I found that street people acted that way because they were scared of me. They were simply trying to protect themselves," she said.
Today she is a friend of the street people in the Sanam Luang area. The homeless are "people who live in a public space", covering the mentally disturbed, sex workers, vagrants and children.
Some of the mentally ill women on the street are raped, get pregnant and give birth.
"They need help," she said.
Her network would arrange a seminar before the end of this month to boost public understanding of the homeless and how to extend help to the needy.
"If you find any homeless, please call 1300 and then officials will work on the case," she said.
Sittipon said people need to change their attitudes towards the mentally ill.
"Don't see them as a threat. Please see them as patients," he said.
He hopes his project would be able to persuade people to join its activities in the future.
"They can contribute by just capturing the homeless patients on their cameras and alerting us," he said.
Dr Wachira Pengchan, director-general of the Mental Health Department, said his department was ready to take in the homeless who need treatment for their mental symptoms.
"If they recover, they will be able to return to their homes," he said.