BANGKOK – Thailand’s transportation hub, Bangkok Railway Station, or Hua Lamphong, in Bangkok’s Pathumwan district, has been ordered by the State Railway Authority to shutdown at night in an attempt to prevent homeless people sleeping in, an issue the station has identified as a cause of criminal activity.
An epa journalist said that there were only around 50 people seen in the Hua Lamphong’s perimeter at midnight on Thursday, about half the usual number.
He said it was the first night that a stand was set up at the station so that homeless people could sign up to join a government-funded rehabilitation program that includes job training and shelter.
However, some of them chose instead to sleep on the sidewalk further away from the station last night.
Many of the homeless people turned down the opportunity of registering with the program for a number of reasons, including a lack of incentives and trust, according to social worker Thanarat Tharaporn.
“Many displaced people view the shelter as a place of confinement. Since they often receive food donations they do not feel the need to rely on the facility.”
“Many of them with certain physical or mental conditions find it difficult to break away from their habits. You also have to work in the area long enough to convince them to get help,” Thanarat added.
Thanarat told EFE Hua Lamphong train station night closure, which began two nights ago, is neither a solution to the issue of displaced people nor a way to guarantee safety to passengers.
Displaced people have used Hua Lamphong as a home for decades.
Thanarat said they could be spotted during the day sitting on or carrying around large plastic sacks, which they use as pillows at night.
Often, the displaced fall prey to thieves. “They are beaten as they are sleeping as the thief wants to take their belongings in the sack,” Thanarat said.
“Now that they are closed off at night, they are unable to use the toilets in the train station and have to use the nearby canal instead,” he added.
The issue has sparked public uproar in Thailand, a country that saw over 3,000 registered homeless people in 2013.
The numbers, Thanarat said, do not include wandering teens, alcoholics or recent convicts who occupy urban public spaces.
Opinion online is divided, with some supporting the clean-up policy, saying passengers deserve to be safe, whereas others are concerned whether the regulation offers any long-term solution.
In response to the social media uproar, SRT released an official statement on Thursday saying the new regulation adheres to the welfare of both commuters and the displaced people.
“It appears that among the homeless people using the station grounds to sleep at night, crime problems have become pervasive.”
“SRT, in coordination with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, offers 24-hour shelters for displaced people near Hua Lamphong where they can turn up to sleep and wash.”
It is unclear whether the night shutdown, between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., will continue until the Songkran Festival in mid-April, which is a peak travel time for Thais and foreigners alike.
Hua Lamphong train station, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is a main transportation hub for hundreds of thousands of visitors annually who board the trains to visit their hometowns or to join the water festival in other provinces.