As our team and role in our community develops we have been spending some time in prayer and discussing the needs we see in our neighborhood and the gifts we have to serve with. It seems to us that one of the most important things we can do for our (especially homeless) neighbors is to serve as information centers, essentially taking a relational social work role, and helping people navigate the difficult waters of accessing services that they may not know about or aren’t able to access without help. For example, theoretically every Thai citizen is eligible for almost-free health care through (not very good but way better than nothing) public hospitals, but they need to have a valid Thai ID card and often need to transfer their home registration to Bangkok. This can be a multi-step, multi-day, multi-office process that seems insurmountable to the average homeless person who is probably already pretty sick by the time they decide they need to get this help. We can take them to those offices and the presence of a friendly white face that speaks Thai helps get them much better service and wait less time than if they were just there alone, as a sick and dirty looking homeless person. Some of our time is spent interviewing neighborhood members, largely just giving them an opportunity to share their stories – how they got to be where they are, what pains they have in their life on the streets, what they want to be remembered for after they are gone.
It is amazing how eager people are to share who they are when someone takes the time to ask and get to know them. This is also an opportunity for us to get to know the needs of our community better, and to look for opportunities to serve and build deeper relationships with our neighbors. Most often people tell us that family is most important to them – that they want to be a good daughter, father, mother or grandparent. This is a sad reality, because so many of our neighbors are living estranged and distant from their family, usually because the shame of being homeless or selling sexual services is too great to maintain close relationship, so people find themselves in a cycle of wanting to provide for and have relationship with their family but feeling to need to hold themselves at a distance, or having their family keep a distance from them. Just last week Iven was talking with a homeless man “Mr. Mustache” when a woman came up and propositioned him. Mr. Mustache said, “these guys are like social workers, not customers” at which point “Ms. Blessing” started talking very openly about her life. She used to work at a mall, but is now selling services on our street to help pay for her junior high school age son’s education, and to save towards a motorcycle for her high age son (both of whom live outside of Bangkok with extended family) – she recently was able to buy a motorcycle with her earnings for her eldest daughter. She has a sister in Bangkok who sells noodles, but the sister is ashamed of her because she is involved in sex-work. She understands that we can’t fix her problems, and honestly she isn’t really looking for help of any kind – she knows in order to make as much money as she wants to make she needs to do something illegitimate – but she did ask us to pray that she would win the lottery so that she could buy a house for herself and her kids and stop living and working on our street.