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Setting the record straight

Setting the record straight

091009_06
A security officer stands guard outside the Korsang drop-in centre in Chamkarmon district in Phnom Penh.

Dear Editor,

In response to Oum Rithy and Rotha Peng’s letters (October 7), Korsang would like to acknowledge the feelings of the local community. We do understand our neighbours’ concerns about our programme, and we do respect our neighbours’ rights to have a peaceful and safe place to live.

Korsang also wants a peaceful and crime-free neighbourhood for its programme and participants.

We would also like our neighbours – and the citizens of Phnom Penh – to understand better exactly what we do in our programme, so that some of the unfortunate behaviour they have seen can be understood in context.

Overall, Korsang works to help those residents of Phnom Penh who use injecting drugs to reduce their exposure to illness (HIV/AIDS and others), injury and other harm. The harm-reduction programme is part of a continuum of services that is still being developed in Cambodia.

As people who inject drugs are often homeless and because, like other homeless people, they use public space for their “homes” and other functions, they often attract the attention of police, whose job it is to maintain public order. Korsang has a nighttime programme called Kamp Korsang. This project is located at the Korsang drop-in centre and has its own quite strict rules (see below). All those who wish to sleep at Korsang must be inside the shelter by 8pm and are kept there until the morning. There is no entering or leaving after 8pm.

Although this shelter part of the programme was created in response to a crisis, it has been proved to improve the health status of those 80 or so people who do use the service. Their improved health and well-being reduces the health and security threats that drug users pose to other citizens of the city who do not use drugs.

There are strict rules at Korsang, and those who do not follow them are ejected. They may still get some of the benefits (health care and clean needles), but cannot eat, sleep, shower or stay there.

The shelter, however, does not represent the full array of services given by Korsang in that location. By day, Korsang’s staff work both inside the drop-in centre and on the streets, seeking injecting drug users who need services and providing support and counselling. Within the centre, participants – most of whom are unemployed – can receive health treatment, food, counselling and referrals to other schemes that transport them to HIV testing and medical care.

In addition, in order to be a good neighbour and to be responsible for problems that might reflect badly on the programme, Korsang staff patrol and clean the streets of all drug paraphernalia (syringes, straws, baggies) in a three- block radius of our facility 20 times a day. Programme participants are not allowed to gather or congregate within three blocks of Korsang, either. There is a front-gate security officer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After dark, Korsang keeps an additional staff member outside the gate to patrol the street. If a Korsang participant is observed using or possessing illegal drugs within a three-block radius of our facility, they are banned from using our drop-in services.

Korsang has given free medical services to local community members. Korsang is also willing to provide services to any and all local neighbours if they have a drug-using family member. In addition, monks visit the centre every week to offer counselling in good Buddhist behaviour. Korsang keeps more than 80 local community drug-using participants off the streets every night, 365 days a year. This limits much of the former nighttime crime in the Psar Daumtkov area.

To respond to the concern about crime in our neighborhood, Korsang is currently seeking to hire two off-duty police officers to patrol our neighborhood through the night. In addition, Korsang is actively responding to all calls from neighbours, 24 hours a day, and meeting with local authorities and concerned community members on a monthly basis.

As there seems to be a perception that Korsang participants may do whatever they want in the programme, I’d like to set out the details of our behaviour policy, which is strictly enforced:

No physical violence
No stealing
No drug use
No local vandalism
No verbal disrespect to staff or other participants
No threats of violence
No weapon possession
No using drugs within a three-block radius of Korsang
No possession of drugs inside the Korsang gate
No possession of stolen items on Korsang property

We welcome Oum Rithy, Rotha Peng and others to our centre if they are interested in what we are doing and want to see for themselves how the programme is run.

Thank you to all who have given us helpful feedback. Let’s hope this can be the last letter to The Phnom Penh Post as we work together to live together.

Taing Phoeuk
Korsang Executive Director

Send letters to: [email protected] or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.

The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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