Snoring mixed with the loud noise of vehicles driving back and forth is the soundtrack of an old man who sleeps on the sidewalk. Cool, natural wind is like the air from a fan that never stops. And the lonely silence is his scariest enemy.
This is a night life of Omra Savong, a 61-year-old cyclo driver who always sleeps in the walkways of other’s houses out of poverty. It is his bedroom – a public bedroom.
Savong, who has worked as a cyclo driver for 30 years, comes from Prey Veng province. Since coming to Phnom Penh in 1984 he has never slept on a bed.
“I don’t have any valuable things with me because I am a poor cyclo driver, so I sleep in front of houses where the owner approves.”
“Once I was asked to sleep in front of a house by myself, and a thief stole my phone and money,” he said with a sad face and bitterness in his heart.
“In total, I have lost five phones and nearly a hundred dollars.”
Savong is just one of many people who sleep on the streets. There are many others who face similar and even worse conditions.
They are forced to adjust and accept the street as their bed because they have no other place to sleep. We can see that most people who use the sidewalks as their bedrooms are motor taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers, cyclo drivers, beggars and refuse collectors.
Not much different is the story of Met Ny, 31, who only has sticks and a bag to collect rubbish such as papers, bottles and cans. He is now used to facing cool air and rain and being bitten by mosquitos. Originally from Kampong Cham province, he finds it hard to survive day by day.
“I want to get a job but I can’t because I have no connections like others, so what I can do now is pick up the rubbish,” said Ny.
“Being a trash collector, I am chased, taken to the police and sometimes beaten just because I walk behind another’s steps.”
From staying with siblings to sleeping in front of houses, Bun Thoeun, a moto taxi driver, also faces difficult times because of his poverty. He sleeps where other drivers sleep, which can improve safety. If you drive around the roads nearby O’Russey Market at night time, you can see motorbikes and tuk-tuks parked in a line with people sleeping inside.
“It is safe here because we have more people and there is no bother from the police,” Thoeun said.
One of his fellow tuk-tuk drivers, Chanthorn, has been homeless for 10 years. He said that he buys water every evening for baths at a cost of 200 riel per petrol container. Every night he has to wait until the house owner packs his things from the street. He goes to sleep at around 10pm.
“We are fine to sleep here because the house owners welcome us to sleep as we can be security guards for them,” said Chanthorn.
As we cannot see the future, anything can happen. Although they do not have real jobs and must sleep any place possible, they should not be blamed. They are not thieves or criminals.
By pointing out the lives of homeless people who dwell on the sidewalks, LIFT wants to show these dark corners of the city.
Although they do not have great knowledge or much money, they are trying to work very hard honestly. Most of them do not steal or break the law. As human beings, we should give value to people equally and avoid dis-