City homeless find cheap 'hotel'

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Thanh, a 42-year-old construction worker, pays VND10,000 and choses a chair on the sidewalk of Hoang Dieu street in Ho Chi Minh City.


Around 20 others are already sleeping soundly with similar arrangements.


The migrant from the central region recalled that after he finished work at midnight one day, he found that his rental home had been closed. He was about to lie down on a bench at the Ben Thanh Bus Station, but a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver said he could be caught by the police and introduced him to the "sidewalk hotel" for about 50 cents a night.


The hotel is a 50 square meter area in front of three houses operated by one of the house-owners, identified only as Cuong, who also sells drinks to his guests or other passers by.


The place doesn't have a safe place to store money or other valuable belongings of the guests, some of whom come frequently.


One of the regulars is a porter named Hau. Every night at 1 a.m., he walks more than three kilometers from the Co Giang Market in District 1 to the sleeping place and wakes up at 5 a.m. to get back to work.


He covers his face with a hat to avoid the street light.


"I've got no money to rent a room," the 40-year-old from the south central province of Binh Dinh told local news website Vnexpress.


"I work hard but only earn VND40,000 a day at most. After meals and other necessities, I have more than VND300,000 a month to send home for my two children to pay their school fees.


"Their mother at home also has to work very hard. I try to send them every single coin I earn."


Hau recalled his going home for Tet (the Lunar New Year holiday) last year and his daughter, an 11th grader, asked for money to pay school fees failing which she would be expelled. "I could only turn away."


He used to sleep under bridges, sometimes even on the sidewalk of the East-West Highway, but police have started patrolling the place more carefully lately.


Hau said most of the other customers do not have a home and usually stay until the morning. Many of them are xe om drivers, street vendors or construction workers.


Hoa, a lottery ticket seller nearly 60 years old from Can Tho Province in the Mekong Delta, said he used to sleep wherever possible when he first came to the city, and then a friend told him about the sidewalk hotel.


"It's saved me a lot of money," he said.


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