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The Love of Homeless: The Bond That May Hold No Meaning in the Morrow

The dawn of a new day stands as an untouched canvas, yearning for the vibrant brushstrokes of possibility to paint its destiny. It is often a chance for new beginnings, yet just as frequently, it brings pain and uncertainty. Hence, some dread tomorrow, while others welcome it with a tender embrace.

But what if we were to exist unburdened by thoughts of tomorrow’s arrival…?

Join Love on The Street for a conversation with Atchara Sornwaree, a secretary of the Issarachon Foundation to explore the uncertain future of homeless couples.


From Intern to Secretary of the Issarachon Foundation

If you ever walk down Sake Alley in Wat Bowonniwet subdistrict on a Tuesday, you'll likely spot a booth handing out free food. Right nearby, there's always a woman wearing a shirt representing the Issarachon Foundation. She casually engages in conversations with homeless folks, and her name is "Atchara Sornwaree" or "Ja."

Ja began her journey with the Issarachon Foundation in the year 2007. She initially joined as an intern while studying at the Faculty of Social Administration, Thammasat University. After completing her degree, she returned to work at the foundation. Tragically, her husband, Natee Sornwaree, the former secretary of the foundation, passed away. In the wake of this loss, she stepped into his role and has been dedicated to helping homeless people for a remarkable 16 years. Her commitment to caring for them is akin to how she would care for her own friends.

“Our main focus is to empower them to help themselves. We act as their voice, like a speaker or a platform, and most importantly, like a friend. We're not here to play the role of strict officers monitoring them. Instead, we build a friendship-like relationship with them.”

Ja firmly believed that this friendship-like bond helps homeless individuals open up to her without any hesitation, allowing her to better understand their life situations.


The Undefined Love Within the Homeless

“The love among the homeless is undefined and uncomplicated. It's as simple as 'you like me, I like you.' Their roles aren’t set in stone because they face an uncertain tomorrow and lack big dreams. It's more about feeling like, today, this person cares for me, looks out for me, and stays by my side. It's just that simple.”

Ja talked about the love within the homeless community. The challenges they face force them to prioritize surviving each day over worrying about the future. This means their love centers on the here and now, allowing them to break away from societal expectations since they don’t have to worry about judgment from others in the long run.

“For them, it's as if tomorrow doesn't exist. They don't envision building a lifelong family with the same person because their societal norms are distinct from ours. What's truly commendable is how they navigate these challenges without being concerned about what others think.”

Ja described their norms as “different from ours,” comparing it to a relationship that resembles “a complex spider web.” In these relationships, it's possible for one person to have multiple overlapping partners, and the traditional gender roles imposed by society are gradually disappearing.

“You've got one woman who's a wife to one guy, but she can also be another guy's wife. And at the same time, she might play the part of a husband for either a woman or a man, all depending on what makes her feel comfortable with her role or gender.”

Ja recalled a memorable incident from the past. In the Sanam Luang area, there was a woman who became pregnant and confessed to her partner that the child wasn't his because she had been with another man before. Interestingly, even though the man was aware that the child wasn't biologically his, he chose to raise the child as his own. While it may appear unfair or deceitful from an outsider's perspective, it is entirely acceptable within their homeless community.

While Ja observed that many homeless individuals have love lives similar to the one described earlier, she acknowledged that human relationships come in all forms. There are also homeless people who share enduring and unwavering love.

“Are there homeless couples with long-lasting love? Absolutely. Some of them live together and, although they don't focus on the future, it doesn't mean they lead promiscuous lives. A few of them even have children and raise families together.”


Violence in Relationships, the Recognized and Accepted Condition

picture by Nino Carè from Pixabay

Alcohol consumption is common among the homeless. There is a variety of alcohol options available, differing in quality and price based on their budget. When they manage to scrape enough money together for alcohol, they often gather, sharing stories and creating a simple sense of joy right there on the sidewalk.

Nonetheless, the impact of alcohol often leads to a loss of control and sense, resulting in fights between friends or lovers. However, Ja clarified that this violence, triggered when one person is intoxicated, isn't the primary cause for relationships falling apart among the homeless.

“Sometimes what we see as hurtful can differ from one person to another based on how they feel. When someone hurts us, we might not take it well because that's just how we are, and we can stand up for ourselves. But we shouldn't jump to conclusions about how others handle it.”

Ja pointed out that for the general public, leaving a hurtful situation is often easier, and they don't have to excessively worry about their future. In contrast, many homeless individuals choose to stay with the person who has been violent because they see other benefits in that relationship that help them survive. Amidst the dangers of street life, having a trustworthy person who can offer protection makes staying with them a more appealing option.


Government Welfare Doesn't Aid Daily Living and Nurturing Relationships

picture by 41330 from Pixabay

In Thai society, the homeless are often unfairly stereotyped as troublemakers who don't contribute to society and are a burden on public funds. This perspective overlooks the fact that the homeless also pay taxes, such as VAT 7%, through their purchases. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has led people to realize that anyone can find themselves in a homeless situation, challenging these stereotypes.

“If you ask me, I'd say that COVID-19 put a spotlight on the homeless because it made everyone realize that they don't have state welfare, their lives are full of uncertainty, and they could end up on the streets at any moment.”

Ja highlighted the longstanding structural issues in the country. She pointed out that the Thai education system doesn't encourage analytical thinking. When we encounter homeless individuals, instead of asking about the underlying issues, we often hold negative judgments. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we began to understand that the government didn't offer adequate state welfare to support us in times of life and death. It was at that point when our empathy toward the homeless started to grow.

Furthermore, the state welfare system does not facilitate family formation, especially for marginal individuals. For them, government support often seems like an elusive dream that remains out of reach.

“I'm convinced that throughout our lives, there's a significant issue with how the government handles child-rearing quality, educational opportunities, and the so-called "free" education, which remains questionable as many children drop out of schools before graduation. Nowadays, single parents lack government support. Occasionally, we can even witness fathers taking their kids to work because the most one can earn with a bachelor's degree is just 15,000 to 18,000 baht. As a result, many people find themselves needing multiple jobs because a single job doesn't provide enough income.”

In recent times, we have witnessed children choosing to leave school and live on the streets due to financial difficulties, with some cases linked to unstable family situations. Ja highlighted that several policies predominantly focus on distributing money rather than addressing the underlying structural issues, which is why such problems persist to this day.

“Absolutely, money is important. However, even if you were to give me 50,000 baht, it wouldn't be sufficient to care for the kids. We need more comprehensive welfare, one that offers support and assistance to children who have dropped out of school. The key question is how can we assist and provide the necessary support for them to lead fulfilling lives?”

Hence, the government plays a crucial role in resolving this issue. By identifying and rectifying the flaws in the structural system and enhancing the balance of welfare, the life-stability of the people can be significantly improved. This is a vital step in reducing homelessness.

English Translated by Hingsanthia S.


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