The invisible man….No one see the homeless, no proper census, no working data! They surface only when every year during the winters some homeless people die in Delhi, and media makes a huge hue and cry about it. For some the extreme winters in Delhi starts with such news article, and for some it is the time to organize the office/friend circle to collect some old winter clothes for free distribution. Recently NGOs started filing cases in courts against such deaths and over a period of many judgments now the Supreme Court of India has constituted a committee for looking into this matter. Though this has stopped the ULBs from demolishing the few existing homeless shelter; but where are we heading towards? Census defines homeless as someone who don’t have the roof over the head, so the whole focus went to making horrible homeless shelters in Delhi. DUSIB with MNGO in Delhi built around 64 shelters in 4 days! Yes and what they called the shelter was a tin enclosure, anyone who have little common sense would know that a tin compartment will act as a freezer in winters and an oven in the summers; very much seen by the survey* which shows that only 16% of the homeless sleep in homeless shelters. Why can’t we spend the little available funds in a just manner that will help the issue of homelessness in general?
Some say at least there is some effort….. but what is this effort towards…. Giving shelter to the homeless!….. ARE THE HOMELESS AN ISSUE OR DO WE NEED TO TACKLE HOMELESSNESS?… the current approach is based on fulfilling the census definition by just providing a roof over the homeless. Homelessness arrives due to other urban issues, so without looking at other urban facets the problem cannot be solved. Homelessness also leads to a whole vulnerable class of people which is not homogeneous thus the issues are as varied as from crime to ending in a loop of narcotics addictions etc. Also since the homeless is not a homogeneous lot, the homeless-shelter can’t also be the same.
When homelessness is seen as a phenomenon then the philanthropic approaches no more holds valid. The word ‘shelter’ generally used in homeless-shelter is more than just an abode. A shelter is an entry level housing for urban poor and so it has different dynamics. A homeless-shelter is transitory in nature, both physically as well as a tool for upward mobility of the urban poor. What are we doing for that?
More than 60%* of the homeless have been so for more than 10 years, and my personal interaction revealed that many homeless in Delhi have been so for more than 30 years! So what are we getting from the money that is spent? (Delhi alone spends more than 45 Lakhs per month for running homeless shelters!) Who is responsible? There are few NGOs who are working in a comprehensive manner to tackle many issues, but there are limits for an NGO to tackle with the urban development mode.
A homeless shelter is a nodal point for the lowest strata of the urban dwellers to engage with the city and pave their ways towards an upward mobility. Homeless as such are not all destitute, more than 50% of them have daily earnings, they just don’t have an option for affordable housing and sanitation; many are addicts or ill, how do they get out of the vicious cycle of illness and drug abuse and become the part of the main stream citizenry (usage of the word being very vague!)
In an era when we are talking about the right to food and education, we miss that the anchor point for both these essential aspects of life is a shelter. Apart from solving the current crisis we need to look at the larger picture on why there is homelessness? What are the steps that need to be taken so that there is a way for the homeless person to upgrade and be a part of the so called main stream citizenry?
The invisible man too have the right to live WITH DIGNITY and an option for UPWARD MOBILITY
*raw data taken from the sample survey, (Delhi, Chennai, Madurai & Patna), supplemented by in-depth life histories of the respondents, as well as focus group discussion, done in October 2007 to October 2008 by Harsh Mander