Showdown looms between Pattaya community, AIDS shelter

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A showdown is looming between residents of a Pattaya community and an HIV/AIDS shelter there, with locals demanding infected patients move out by next week and hospice executives vowing to stay.

June 12 will mark six months since residents of the Lang Nern Community voted 131-30 to evict the Glory Hut Foundation on Soi Chaiyapornwithi in Moo 3 village, giving the shelter six months to find a new location. In the intervening months, Nongprue Sub-district officials and even the National Human Rights Commission have tried to reason with locals, to no avail.

Residents of the Lang Nern community have put up signs, trying to evict the Glory Hut Foundation.Residents of the Lang Nern community have put up signs, trying to evict the Glory Hut Foundation.

Now, with the deadline a week away, Glory Hut says the site suggested by Nongprue was unsatisfactory, that it has made a large investment in its current property and that it is determined to stay. Community leaders, meanwhile, are vowing “extreme measures” to get the AIDS patients out of their backyard.

“We thought this would be resolved by now,” said foundation Chairwoman Pornsawan Kristhirak.

Instead, on May 28, community association President Wichien Weruwan re-launched the public campaign to oust the center, leading residents in putting up posters pressuring the charity to remove the approximately 30 HIV-positive patients.

Residents are fighting back, saying they have already made a large investment in their current site, and that the so-called referendum to evict them was not legally binding.Residents are fighting back, saying they have already made a large investment in their current site, and that the so-called referendum to evict them was not legally binding.

In December, residents said they had multiple reasons why they wanted Glory Hut out, including sewage problems, loud noise, and basic “dishonesty” about the group’s mission.

In essence, locals claimed the charity deceived them about housing HIV patients and now the presence of AIDS victims in their midst is depressing land values.

In interviews after the vote, one resident claimed she voted to evict the foundation because of ghosts of the deceased haunting the property while others found the sight of the dead being carted out “unacceptable”. Still others said they didn’t want their children to encounter AIDS patients on the street.

Fearing that the HIV patients’ human rights were being violated, the NHRC intervened in the matter after the international media picked up the story on December’s vote.

Investigators said the root of the problem was villagers didn’t have adequate knowledge and understanding of HIV and AIDS and how it’s transmitted. The agency urged the government to step in and mediate a long-term solution, but nothing has happened.

Nongprue Mayor Mai Chaiyanit did offer a property where Glory Hut could relocate, but management rejected it, as it was next to a garbage dump and executives were put off not only by the smell, but fears the local ground water was contaminated.

She said the board has decided to simply stay put.

“Residents of the Lang Nern community had no right to hold a referendum, so we consider the results to be invalid,” she told the media, calling on government officials again to broker talks.

She noted that the residents’ main complaints – sewage and garbage – have been resolved. It now hauls away its own trash every day and has installed wastewater-treatment equipment on the property.

Furthermore, management has told the AIDS patients to remain inside the compound and is trying to raise funds to build permanent fence.

The only obstacle left is the residents’ own fear of AIDS patients.

Glory Hut moved to its current location when it lost 400,000 baht in annual funding from the Population Services International in the U.S. Its Thailand chapter works on HIV prevention, but has narrowed its focus to the O-Zone Drop-In Center it opened in Chiang Mai in 2003.

Pornsawan said the charity has now secured 380,000 baht in funding from Pattaya City Hall and private donors. It tries to earn more income to cover its 80,000 baht monthly budget by making liquid balm and growing vegetables.

Furthermore, Glory Hut has invested 800,000 baht to buy the land and construct four buildings in Lang Nern. It has no plans to simply walk away from that, executives said.

Residents, however, plan to work aggressively to get the patients out.

“If the foundation still ignores residents’ demands, we will use extreme measures,” Wichien vowed. He refused to specify what those measures might be, but did say residents would not resort to violence.