Steve has been a regular visitor to Thailand and when his marriage of thirty three years ended he set up a permanent home in Pattaya. He admitted to the independent that he is a bit of a sexaholic and has a fondness for alcohol. After his business venture failed he ended up sleeping on the beach and was surprised that emails he sent back home asking for a few hundred baht were fruitless, this he said made him very sad.
Sunanta Kaewmuangphet started a homeless charity in Pattaya a year ago and has seen about twenty five westerners in a similar situation to Steve, almost all of them men. She has helped people from the UK, Italy, Austria, Holland, Scandinavia and the US. “these people need help, but nobody is helping them” she said.
The Issarachon Foundation, a homeless organization in Bangkok estimates that there could be up to two hundred homeless foreigners living rough across Thailand along with thirty thousand Thai nationals. They say that forty percent of homeless Thai’s are suffering from mental health problems where most of the foreign homeless have alcohol problems.
In order to survive western homeless people beg for food or find leftover food in and around food courts, some have been seen busking around train stations in Bangkok.
Lieutenant Colonel Vasu Sangsuksai, Tourist Police deputy for central Thailand said that this problem is a lot worse than it was ten years ago, and it is a problem without a solution. With fines of up to 20,000 for overstay, typically homeless foreigners cannot afford to leave and the next step is jail. Lt. Col Vasu said that he has spoken to the foreign Embassies in Thailand on many occasions but they say they can’t do anything to help.
Back in Jomtien, afraid of the Thai authorities, Steve said he went to the British consulate every week for a month, but the staff told him there was nothing they could do to help, he said that the staff felt sorry for him, but did nothing.
The Jomtien consulate was closed in November after Whitehall targeted £240m in Foreign Office spending cuts by April, 2015. The British consul in Bangkok, Michael Hancock, said: “The consular team provides an increased level of assistance to these most vulnerable people in order to help them resolve their difficulties and resume their lives in Thailand or return to the UK.” Last year, the Bangkok embassy provided assistance to 1,141 British nationals, a record for the UK mission in Thailand.
Long time Thai resident paul Garrigan said he finds the growing homeless situation rather unsurprising. Age 44 he himself spent five years in Thailand drinking himself to death before giving up the booze in 2006 and writing a book called Dead Drunk in which he talks about his ordeal and other expats that have fallen on hard times in the county. He told the independent, “ I’d been living in Saudi Arabia where I worked as a nurse but I have been a alcoholic since my teens and after a holiday in Thailand in 2001 I decided I may as well drink myself to death on a beautiful island in Thailand. Like many people I taught English at a school but spent much of my time on islands such as Koh Samui where I could start drinking early in the morning and not be judged. I was very lucky I put myself on the straight and narrow before I became homeless myself, Many others don’t.”
Thai’s find the sight of homeless foreigners quite shocking s they see farang as generally very affluent and this has made the homeless the focus of many news reports including one about Sylvester, a 61 year old African American who sleeps on the beach in Pattaya and uses a public rest room to stay clean.
“I have shorts and T-shirts in my backpack for a change of clothes. On the beach, I sleep on a mat and my backpack is my pillow.” He told the newspaper that he used to work as private contractor in Iraq before falling for a bar girl in Pattaya in 2009. The relationship ended in 2011 when he lost most of his saving invested in a lorry in her name. Despite his visa expiring he decided to stay on in the county: “I do not have anyone is the US,” he said.
This sort of story isn’t uncommon said Garrigan, “It can be very hard to admit to family back home, if you have any, that your dream life in Thailand has gone wrong or that your heart has been broken and that you are desperate to come home.”
Other homeless Westerners may be suffering from legal problems. Bruno Min, the direct assistance co-ordinator for Fair Trials, said foreigners facing charges aboard “are often subject to a travel ban for lengthy periods, leaving them stranded in a foreign country, with few sources of basic financial and welfare support, and very vulnerable to destitution”.Stay updated with Samui Times by following us on Facebook.
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