Facility for Homeless, Addicts in Laos Faces Budget Crunch

somsanga-center The U.S. Embassy in Laos funded vocational training for the Somsanga Center, providing agricultural skills for drug addicts.
Courtesy U.S. Embassy in Laos

A facility for the homeless, mentally ill and drug addicts in the Lao capital Vientiane is facing budget shortfalls and has resorted to fundraising in order to continue operations.

The Somsanga Support Center in Vientiane’s Sayettha district urgently needs funding to continue to feed its 230 internees, some of whom are as young as 15 years old and others who are quite elderly, sources say.

“We’re accepting donations,” said an administrator of the support center in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service on Mar. 11.

The administrator said that the facility needs at least $700 per day to buy rice, vegetables and other foodstuffs. It has been until now entirely dependent on the Lao government to provide funding for the three meals it serves to internees.

That funding has been running short lately, according to the official.

“We are accepting [donations of] rice, dry and fresh food, and also clothes, so that we can relieve hunger and [mitigate] shortages,” the administrator said, adding, “The number of internees keeps rising. We often have newcomers.”

The Somsanga campus is divided into two centers; the Somsanga Treatment and Rehabilitation Center treats drug addicts, while the Somsanga Support Center houses the homeless, beggars and the mentally ill.

The government routinely rounds up people off the street and sends them to the support center.

During periods leading up to major events in the capital, such as ASEAN regional diplomatic summits, the center’s numbers swell as the government tries to get people off the streets for appearances sake, even though the stated purpose of the center is to provide the needy with temporary shelter and food, as well as job skills.

The administrator noted that the rehab center is funded by the Lao government and foreign donors, but the support center is only funded by Laos’ Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.

“Funds are now running low because we have many homeless people coming in every year and there’s not enough money or food [for us to help them all],” said the administrator.

The United States has contributed more than $350,000 to the rehab center, including the building, funding for skills training and vocational training, and equipment for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

RFA’s Lao Service in 2011 reported that abuse was rampant in the rehab center, citing a Human Rights Watch report.

A Lao source who claimed to have a friend recently interned at the rehab center said that staff had to be tough on the drug addicts, even resorting to violence. The addicts often try to escape so staff would beat them with batons to keep them from leaving, according to the source.

Additionally, one meth addict’s mother revealed after visiting the rehab center years ago that it was overcrowded. She said she saw her son sleeping on a part of a mat on the hard floor.

As violence among the addicts was a common occurrence, many of them are detained in small rooms, she said. The adverse conditions inside the center made her decide to pull her son out.

Drug use is widespread in Laos and according to a report by Somsanga, young people are lured into drug use at many of the captial’s nightclubs, snooker halls and gambling establishments. The center is the largest such facility in Laos.

The director of the facility, Lieutenant Colonel Sengthong Keuabounlam told the Vientiane Times that 1,368 people were successfully rehabilitated last year and returned to their homes.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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