How Thailand is Tackling Homelessness and Mental Health Issues?

Homelessness is a complex and multifaceted problem that affects many people around the world. In Thailand, there are more than 4,500 homeless individuals, most of whom are psychiatric patients. They face various challenges, such as overcrowding, ineffective categorisation, complex needs, and insufficient resources in the homes of the destitute.

However, Thailand is also making remarkable efforts to address this issue through various laws, policies, and initiatives. In this article, we will share some of the insights and learnings from our visit to Thailand, where we witnessed how the homeless community, the government, and the civil society are working together to improve the protection and welfare of the destitute.

The Power of the Homeless Network

One of the most impressive aspects of our visit was the strong bottom-up approach adopted in Thailand to involve homeless individuals in shaping existing services and laws. This initiative began with the homeless community forming a network amongst themselves, establishing connections with relevant channels and organisations.

The network empowers the homeless to voice their opinions, needs, and aspirations, and to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. It also provides peer support, mutual assistance, and advocacy for the homeless community. Interestingly, the then Minister of Social Welfare, who was once homeless during his teenage years, played a pivotal role in this transformation. His personal experiences enabled him to empathise with the struggles of the homeless community, thereby driving impactful changes.

The Legal Framework for the Destitute

Thailand has implemented several laws and policies to address mental health issues among individuals experiencing homelessness and begging. Under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, two key laws have been enacted:

– The Protection of Helpless Persons Act, B.E. 2557 (2014): This law aims to protect destitute individuals who face social problems and lack security in their lives, whether in terms of housing or income. It provides protection and basic necessities for these individuals, enabling them to lead a normal life in society.

– The Control of Begging Act, B.E. 2559 (2016): This law aims to improve the protection and quality of life of beggars, control begging, and distinguish street performers from beggars. It also imposes criminal offences on those who exploit the physical malformations and intellectual or mental impairments of others.

Additionally, the Ministry of Public Health has enacted the Mental Health Act B.E. 2551 (2008), which was amended by the Mental Health Act (NO.2) B.E. 2562 (2019). These laws collectively aim to protect and enhance the mental health of all individuals, particularly those experiencing homelessness and begging.

Our university participated in the Mental Health Conference on Management Issues for Homeless Psychiatric Patients in Thailand, held at the Department of Mental Health, Ministry of Public Health, Thailand on 7th November 2023. The conference aimed to share best practices and challenges in addressing the mental health needs of the homeless population in Thailand and other countries.

The Home For the Destitute Initiative

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in Thailand is actively addressing the issue of homelessness through their initiative, Home For the Destitute. Their mission is to protect, care for, and enhance the quality of life of the homeless in the long term. They operate 11 homes for the destitute.

The homes for the destitute provide various services, such as shelter, food, clothing, medical care, rehabilitation, vocational training, and social reintegration. They also cater to the specific needs and problems of different groups of destitute individuals, such as the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the drug addicted.

The homes for the destitute are staffed by a multidisciplinary team, including caregivers, career trainers, social workers, psychologists, and nursing assistants. They work together to provide holistic and comprehensive care for the residents.

Members of our university visited the Thai Red Cross Society Office on 8th November 2023. The Thai Red Cross Society is a humanitarian organisation that provides aid and relief in times of war and disaster, as well as operates hospitals and other health services.

Conclusion

Thailand is a country that has shown remarkable progress and innovation in tackling homelessness and mental health issues. Through their bottom-up approach, legal framework, and home for the destitute initiative, they have demonstrated their commitment and compassion to protect and empower the destitute. We hope that our visit to Thailand will inspire and inform our own efforts to address this issue in our context.

This write-up was written by Associate Professor Dr Farizah Mohd Hairi from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya.

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