“Being homeless does not necessarily means being friendless.”
This is the philosophy of Ban Poonsuk, a communal refuge for the homeless and stigmatized asymptomatic COVID-19 patients in Pathum Thani province near Bangkok.
For a single mom with two children, aged 5 and 1, who was expelled from a cheap rental room by the landlord, after it was discovered that she was infected with COVID-19, being accepted into Ban Poonsuk is a far cry from life under a flyover in Bangkok, where they stayed after their eviction.
Another newcomer to Ban Poonsuk had to leave his home in a community, live his in his car and bathe at a petrol station, because his neighbors treated him like an alien after it was learned that he had contracted the virus.
A foundation official, Mr. Somporn Hanprom, told Thai PBS that the stigmatization of asymptomatic or mild cases by people in their communities reflects heightened paranoia and desperation with the worsening pandemic.
Ban Poonsuk represents a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for the infected, many of whom suddenly found themselves friendless, if not homeless, rejected by neighbors and abandoned.
Ban Poonsuk is now divided into a zone for the homeless, who are free from the contagion, and another, which opened recently, to accommodate asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 cases.
This community-based isolation facility is operated by just five volunteers, to make sure that the infected and their families are sufficiently fed and taken care of while they are waiting to be sent to pre-admission centres or hospitals if their conditions worsen.
One of the volunteers, Kannika Poojina, herself a recovered COVID-19 patient, said she draws on her own experience of being infected to treat the patients at Ban Poonsuk.