Urban Homeless

Bharat Dogra

Homeless people constitute the most vulnerable group in cities and metros. Despite a few improvements in some big cities like Delhi, on the whole the homeless people continue to get a raw deal in urban planning. There are millions of people in cities who simply do not have a home. The homeless of cities suffer the most, yet they are the most neglected.

No matter how adverse the weather conditions, they've to generally spend their nights on the footpath, near railways station or bus stop or elsewhere under the open sky. They do not have even two yards of space to keep their clothes or minimal essential belongings, or a place to have a bath and clean up. Even a small humble hut is not accessible to them in the middle of the skyscrapers of metro cities. Whether it is dense fog or smog or the monsoon torrents, they bear it straight on their body.

The homeless people are the most vulnerable group in cold wave conditions. However it is not correct to say that it is only extremely cold weather which causes extreme hardship to homeless people. The rainy season is equally harsh to footpath dwellers.

Bishnu N Mohapatra writes in his paper on the Pavement Dwellers of Mumbai, "It has always been difficult to obtain reliable data concerning pavement dwellers. ...Although living on the pavements of the city, they remained invisible and ignored. Historically no other group in the city suffers as much from the problem of invisibility as the pavement dwellers".

A time bound programme of about five years should be prepared to provide access to shelters to all homeless persons. To overcome financial constraints in speeding up this work, the government can consider, at least on a temporary basis, the night-time use of existing government owned buildings for providing shelter to homeless people. Those government owned buildings which can be used as night-time shelters can be carefully identified using certain criteria.

For several people distribution of sweaters and blankets among the homeless is the most obvious way of saying they care but clearly something more is also needed. The homeless badly need more secure conditions of shelter in which they can face weather extremes, but as they live on the margins of society they are at present not in a strong position to assert their right to shelter. So other citizens should help them to secure their shelter rights. Apart from existing pressure on the government for providing shelter to homeless people citizens cab also help the homeless to access some badly needed services.

Many homeless persons when asked about their problems emphasise beatings, extortions and evictions at the hands of policemen as their biggest problem. Due to the existence of highly unjust laws homeless people in particular have become very vulnerable to being taken suddenly to beggars' homes and confined there for a long time.

In addition there is the threat posed by gangsters and bullies on the street. It is well known that gangs engaged in trafficking are on the lookout for procuring women and children from the most vulnerable sections.
Keeping in view the many-sided problems and threats faced by homeless people, a comprehensive, time-bound, national-level plan for the homeless should be drawn up which on the one hand meets the basic needs of the homeless and on the other hand strengthens them to protect themselves and their rights.

Vol. 50, No.35, Mar 04 - 10, 2018