THE number of people living on the streets of Phnom Penh dropped sharply in 2009, according to a government report released Tuesday, though NGOs that provide services to the homeless said the figures appeared to be a low estimate.
The report, prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, cites a 44-percent decrease in the number of homeless people in the capital – from 4,189 to 2,337.
Speaking at a conference at which the findings were unveiled, Son Sophal, director of the Department of Social Affairs, said the numbers reflected the fact that NGOs and the government had been paying more attention to the homeless.
“The number is down because the government supported homeless people by donating money and urging children to go to school, and also because of the work of some NGOs,” he said.
“But street people are still a concern for society, because they affect social order and tourism, especially the street children who do not go to school.”
The government came under fire from rights groups on several occasions last year for sweeping up homeless people – along with sex workers and drug users – and sending them to centres run by the Social Affairs Department in advance of holidays and other events, notably an EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting held in May.
David Harding, international coordinator for training programmes at the NGO Mith Samlanh, said he believed the number of homeless people was likely on the decline, but that the government figures were far too low.
“We’re estimating, based on figures in the last five years by UNICEF, that there are 20,000 to 24,000 street children alone in Phnom Penh, and this is considered to be the general rule of thumb,” he said.
“But in support of the ministry’s report, we are seeing a reduction in the number of street children. That is the trend.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE