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Homeless shelters – making a space for the poor in our hearts and our country

According to the Homeless World Cup Foundation, which keeps track of the growing number of homeless people in the World, India has an estimated 1.8 million homeless in the country with more than half residing in cities. People coming from rural areas to cities in search of job opportunities, education facilities and better lives, are reduced to living in slums and unhygienic chawls. These migrants are mostly from the poorest states in India like Bihar, Odisha, Rajasthan and UP (Source). Furthermore, 73 million families lack proper housing according to the IGH 2018, Habitat 2019. Not only this, the government actually demolished 53,700 homes in 2017 which made almost 260,000 people homeless citing city beautification projects. The Modi government had promised ‘Housing for All 2022’ but it looks like a tall claim (Source). You would think that there are rapid construction of affordable housing schemes or homeless shelters going on in India to house the people whose slums or ‘jhuggies’ were destroyed. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no concrete plan (literally) to provide shelter to the poorest section of Indian society. Yet. 

The recent news of the Modi government trying to hide slums in Gujarat by erecting a wall, has brought to notice the dire state of their lives. Not only in Ahmedabad, but in places like Bangalore, Faridabad, Haryana, notices have been sent out to slum dwellers to evacuate their homes on the basis of illegal construction laws. The question is, what is being done to mitigate this crisis and not just hide it. Well, not much. It is true that various NGOs exist in India, who strive to provide shelters for the homeless, but these are few and far between. A huge margin exists in the capacity of these shelters and the number of people who need them. It is amazing to see how on the one hand, the current government thinks the Parliament and Central Vista is ‘not enough’ for the ministers for which Rs. 3,000 Crore has been allocated. It is also ironic that ‘The Statue of Unity’ costed the Indian taxpayer Rs. 3,000 Crore. The question here is, can we afford this luxury and can we significantly justify the need of these high-cost infrastructure whereas there are people reduced to living on the streets. The answer is a firm NO.

Estimated Number of Homeless People in Cities across India

(Source)

  • Delhi: 150,000 – 200,000
  • Chennai: 40,000 – 50,000
  • Mumbai: 200,000 (including Navi Mumbai)
  • Indore: 10,000 – 12,000
  • Vishakhapatnam: 18,000
  • Bangalore: 40,000 – 50,000
  • Hyderabad: 60,000
  • Ahmedabad: 100,000
  • Patna: 25,000
  • Kolkata: 150,000
  • Lucknow: 19,000

According to the SC order, Rs. 1,000 crore was given to various state and union territories in 2015 to build operational homeless shelters. Since then, there has been no accountability from the state neither Central government about where did this money go or for what it was utilized (Source). It is already a shame to think that 3 times the money has been spent to erect a statue in one city, where as Rs. 1,000 crore to build homeless shelters was a fund allocated to the entire country. Even this budget, wasn’t correctly and effectively used. Is there a bright side? There are several NGOs like Goonj, Project Sleepwell, etc. which provide blankets, shoes and sleeping bags to people sleeping on the roads in Winter. Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan is another non-profit who run over 26 homeless shelters in Delhi with a capacity of 3000 persons per shelter (Source). But, these efforts are just not enough. What is the government’s role in tackling this issue? The first effort itself taken to help homeless people was initiated in the eight five year plan i.e. in 1992-1997 after Independence. Which means the government lent a thought  to poverty and slum dwellers in India 40 years after Independence. Even at this time, HUDCO allocated a measly Rs. 20,000 per Year to homeless shelters in India (which were made and run by NGOs).(Source).

The existing homeless shelters in India

It is high time we remove the lenses of privilege and open our eyes wide to see the state of Homeless shelters in India. I commend the NGOs who work day in and day out to provide homes for the people, but shouldn’t the state take any responsibility, at least if not in work, in terms of money and funds to make these shelters a habitable and respectful place? These images bring forth the apathy the government has towards the needy.

Good Samaritans India old age home
Good Samaritans India Old Age Home and Shelter for the Homeless
Shelter Don Bosco
Shelter Don Bosco
Shikshangram Shelter
Shikshangram Shelter
Shikshangram Shelter for Homeless Children
Shikshangram Shelter for Homeless Children

Homelessness is a growing crisis in India. With the government doing little and in fact increasing the problem by razing slums or hiding them behind walls, it is up to us to do something. With unemployment at an all time high, inflation on it’s peak and economy taking a steep dive, the number of homeless population is going to severely rise. Climate crisis and resulting natural calamities are going to make lakhs of people homeless. According to a report by News18 in 2019, 50% of them work. They are not beggars, but earn a measly livelihood which isn’t enough to support them or buy them shelter (Source). It is time for us to make space in our hearts and in our country for these helpless and poverty stricken. 

Architects and designers need to bring to notice this shameful issue in our country. Instead of agreeing to build walls, statues and central vistas, it becomes our responsibility to help everyone get a home. Converting old abandoned industries and factories into homeless shelters, adaptive-reuse of deserted government buildings to create shelters and efforts to create more affordable housing societies in India is a must. Some other ideas for the homeless, I have discussed in my previous blog ‘Unconventional homes for the homeless’. We also had guest author Ar. Isht Bhatia who talked about ‘Affordable housing and infrastructure in India’.

The ever-rising real estate prices and growing jobless in the country are also issues which need to be tackled by the government to make sure the homeless population doesn’t increase. A temporary effort to hide the poor for a mere 3 hours to please white faces cost the government Rs. 300 crores. What if, this money was utilized to build homeless shelters for the same people they are trying to hide? What if?

Cover Image Source: The Policy Times

Author: Jamila Sidhpurwala

Jamila is one part artist, two parts foodie, and all parts traveler. She is a patron of good art and design and loves to immerse herself in books and music. Simplicity and minimalism is her motto as an architect. A writing enthusiast, she surrounds herself with all things creative. She actively shuns all “ists” and “isms” and firmly believes in a “no – label” world! She isn’t afraid to take risks, speak her mind, push forward and challenge preconceptions. She is currently pursuing Masters in Architecture at the University of Liechtenstein.

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