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Phoem and Champi: Love, Future and Dream on a Day with an Empty Pocket

The essence of dreams has graced humanity throughout the annals of time, serving as a wellspring of inspiration that fuels our anticipation of an uncertain future. Yet, amid the grand dreams of wealth, fame, and honor that many hold dear, there are those who simply yearn for a humble meal or a mere 50 baht to sustain their days.

Come along with Love on The Street to get to know Phoem and Champi, a homeless couple whose hopes and dreams extend no further than being able to find a place they can truly call “home” and stay together.


Phoem: Growing Up as a Street Wanderer, From Childhood to Adulthood

Phoem, an alias for this 58-year-old man born in Bangkok, has faced the challenges of street life since the tender age of 10 due to his parents' separation. He has endured over 40 years of homelessness and described his life as a constant “cycle of relocating” from one place to another.

Having experienced homelessness, he has held a variety of jobs to make ends meet. These include general labor tasks like moving items and caring for patients, to his most preferred occupation, which is driving a taxi—a job he started in 2000. While taxi driving may seem like a stable occupation, the fact that Phoem doesn't own a car requires him to rent one, incurring significant daily expenses. As a result, some days he turned a profit, broke even, or experienced losses.

After a long and exhausting day behind the wheel of a taxi, Phoem crossed paths with Champi.

“I parked my taxi in this area to rest, ran into her, and had a chat with her. Since both of us had nowhere to go, I invited her to hop into my car and travel along with me.”

Phoem spoke in a laid-back manner. Ever since that time, he has been sharing his life with Champi for around 2 to 3 years.


Champi: A Woman from Suphan Buri, Relocates to Sanam Luang

Champi, using an alias, is a 51-year-old woman originally from Suphan Buri. She has a visual impairment, with her left eye completely blind, while her right eye has partial vision. After her parents passed away, she found herself without a place to call home. At one point, she resided with a relative in Samut Prakan, but eventually, she left and settled near Sake Alley, Sanam Luang. When questioned about how long she has been homeless, she pondered for a moment and replied that she has been living like this since before the passing of King Rama 9.

Champi's life revolves around receiving free meals and an 800-baht disability payment every 10th of the month. But ever since meeting Phoem, life has felt brighter for her.

“Neither of us has a place to call home. We're both struggling and poor.”

Champi expanded on the details Phoem shared about their first meeting, suggesting that their strong connection might be rooted in their shared similarities. They have overcome challenges together, both sharing the experience of starving and sleeping on a rigid concrete floor with a thin, dusty mattress.


Can We Keep Going If I Don't Have Any Money?

Currently, Phoem and Champi are officially married, but that doesn't guarantee a certain future for them. Phoem had to stop working as a taxi driver due to financial constraints, and Champi's disability payment wasn't sufficient to support both of them. To make matters worse, as Phoem gets older and his asthma worsens, he is unable to take on jobs that demand physical strength, resulting in their financial situation becoming increasingly unstable.

Despite the tough circumstances, Phoem remained firm about their relationship, saying

“It's fine even if we're broke, there are times we don't have a single coin.”

Though the couple occasionally disagrees, typical of any relationship, money never becomes the source of their arguments, as Champi expressed about their relationship motto:

“We live together, treat each other well, stay honest, and communicate openly, yet we never argue, even when we have no money.”

Due to their financial struggles, they couldn't celebrate special occasions like most couples do, but they never overlook each other. Champi, who has a visual impairment and frequently faces limitations in what she can do, received constant care from Phoem when she was unwell.

“He looked after me well. Once, when I was sick, he even bought water to help clean my body with a towel.”


Dreams Might Come True; Let’s Hope Even in the Darkest of Days

picture from Facebook: จ้างวานข้า โดยมูลนิธิกระจกเงา

These days, the couple has been sleeping in front of the Buranasiri Mattayaram Temple. It's a great spot because there are not many stray or drunk people around, and it's conveniently located near a bus stop for easy transportation. However, despite its advantages, they've been forced to leave the area.

“The municipal officers made us leave this place. We tried talking to them politely, explaining that we had nowhere else to go. But they made a mistake. They kicked us out, even though they knew we were struggling and had no other options. I really don't like what they did.” said Phoem.

“We reside in a place where we feel at ease, (but) it's not permanent.”

Champi was clear that she won't be settling in this area permanently, while Phoem is optimistic about finding housing through the “Hire Me Project.”

The Hire Me Project (Thai: จ้างวานข้า), initiated by The Mirror Foundation, aims to employ individuals experiencing homelessness. The foundation believes that the homeless face poor living conditions and lack the resources to improve their economic situation. Therefore, this project is established to generate income for those living in public spaces. Its emphasis is on providing employment based on fundamental skills, acknowledging that the homeless individuals might not possess the specialized skills required for certain jobs.

Phoem mentioned that homeless individuals who work in this project for one month can stay in the provided housing during the first month without having to pay the accommodation fee until the following month. This employment opportunity has given the couple renewed hope about securing a place to call home.

However, this job comes with a limitation because the foundation is situated in Lak Si district. As a result, the couple has to commute to work in the early morning and also needs to manage their travel expenses, which become too costly to handle.

“I'm really stressed about figuring out how to afford the commute to work tomorrow. I need to begin my journey to the foundation at 5 AM because it's quite a long way. I have to travel to Chaeng Watthana and then to Vibhavadi Soi 64. The transportation costs for two people amount to 50 baht, and we'll also need to purchase drinking water.”

“I have no choice but to go. How will I manage tomorrow? Where can I get food? We need to sort out at least one meal for ourselves. They cover lunch, but we have to manage breakfast on our own.”

Phoem broke down the 50-baht travel expense, mentioning it covers the bus, motorcycle taxi, and the cost of drinking water. Additionally, he noted that at times, he has to skip breakfast. Despite his usual routine of missing some meals, it's undeniable that working demands a lot more energy compared to before.

“Occasionally, I manage to have a meal, but there are times when I don't get to eat at all if there's no free food available. When there's a food distribution, they set up a booth right there with a long line of people waiting. We must patiently wait for our turn.”

Phoem directed his finger towards the food distribution booth run by the Issarachon Foundation, which provides free meals every Tuesday. However, due to the large number of people waiting for food, sometimes he doesn't manage to get a meal.

“I'll stand in line, and I'm not bothered whether I receive the food or not, as there are many people who are in greater need than us. After all, we do have a job.” said Champi about food distribution.

Phoem added that his “willingness to share”, being kind to others, stems from the time when he used to receive help from others. He recalled a night when he was sleeping by the waterside, and out of nowhere, a food distribution car arrived and offered him a free meal.

If the couple secure accommodation through the Hire Me Project, Phoem aspires to assist other homeless individuals. Additionally, he has a dream of returning to being a taxi driver. Champi, on the other hand, aims to sell government lottery tickets, both of which involve initial financial investment, with selling lottery tickets necessitating an investment of up to ten thousand baht.

“I used to request lottery tickets to sell. I really want to do this job. Five sets of tickets amount to thirty thousand baht.”

Regardless of what the future holds and whether their dreams become a reality, the couple consistently emphasized throughout this conversation,

"We'll face the challenges together, and we won't leave each other behind."

English Translated by Hingsanthia S.


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