The BBMP runs 10 shelters for the homeless in Bangalore, but thousands of poor people freezing on the streets this bitter winter haven’t even heard about them.
With five other women, Begum (70) has made the space under the K R Market flyover her home. “I have lived here for five or six years. We manage,” she said.
Begum is one of the hundreds of homeless people you can find at K R Market and other places around the city. Like Begum, most make a living collecting alms from nearby shrines or shops. They count some clothes and blankets as their possessions.
Ahmed (75) also lives near K R Market. “I make about `50-100 a day begging and cleaning cars,” he said. He camps on the platform of a juice shop near the flyover, close to where Begum and her friends live.
“When the shop opens in the morning, I get up and begin my day at the dargah. With the `50 I earn, I eat something. Most days it is just one meal. If I am lucky, I eat two,” he said.
Neither Begum nor Ahmed know about BBMP’s shelters for the homeless. If they did, this year’s cold might have been slightly more bearable.
“It is bad. As I get older, my joints get stiff and hurt. The cold makes it worse. I just have one blanket and a few clothes. I sometimes use the clothes to cover myself, and my friends just have some cardboard pieces and gunny bags for warmth,” said Begum.
But chances are, even if she went to a BBMP shelter, she might have been turned away.
No Space for More
When Express visited the BBMP-run shelters on J C Road and Murphy Town, caretakers said there simply wasn’t any space for more inmates.
“Most days during winter, we have about 20-30 people coming for shelter, but we turn them away because there isn’t enough space,” said Narayanaswamy, a social worker and volunteer at BBMP’s Murphy Town shelter.
“We can accommodate only 60 people at any time. And we have separate enclosures for women and the elderly,” he said.
Devaki, who has crossed 60, has been staying here with her husband since last year. On some cold days, she says, 40 new people turn up.
Meanwhile, the administrators have their own problems: the homes lack even basic amenities because funds from the BBMP are irregular. “Blankets are few in number. Unless some philanthropists donate sweaters and shawls, inmates have to sleep in the biting cold,” said Narayanaswamy.
In fact, Devaki and her husband Keshava don’t have warm clothing. “We have a thin blanket to cover ourselves with,” said Keshava.
J C Road Home
At the J C Road shelter, a slightly bigger place, the situation is worse. The place is overcrowded, but unlike the Murphy Town one, people coming there are not turned away.
“It is inhuman to leave people outside. So we try and accommodate everyone who comes. Sometimes, despite the cold, they are willing to sleep on the floor,” said Yesu K, who manages the place. Express found as many men sleeping on the floor as those resting on the bunkers.
Veeresh from Davangere is a headloader at K R Market and his work starts at 5 am. After spending five years sleeping in front of shops, under flyovers, at the city railway station and various bus stations, he decided to stay at the J C Road shelter. “I used to sleep curled up and when I woke up in the morning, my stomach would turn into a knot. The cold was unbearable. It still is. But at least, I have a roof over my head,” he said.
A report by the national advisor on the homeless to the Supreme Court said while the Karnataka government counted only 7,428 homeless people in its eight city municipal corporations, 29 NGOs had together counted 17,241 across eight municipal zones in Bangalore alone. And within these eight zones, the government survey done in 2010 had counted only 2,858. “The numbers must be much larger now. There are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 homeless people in Bangalore,” said Rajani Srikakulam, Convenor, Civil Society Forum for City Makers. In addition to harsh weather, homeless people are also victims of abuse, theft and sexual harassment, she said. Such incidents are very common in the City Market area and Yeshwantpur.
“Many head-loaders, vegetable vendors and sweepers, sleep in the open. They are victimised by anti-social elements too. Women, especially, are sexually abused and exploited, and many are physically challenged and cannot help themselves,” she said.
They are also cut off from the government’s social welfare programmes simply because most of them have migrated from other places and do not have identity documents, she added.
BBMP Looks to NGOs
The BBMP needs NGOs to help run shelters, M Lakshminarayana, BBMP Commissioner, told Express.
“It is true many homeless people have no idea about our shelters, and that the number of shelters is inadequate. But it is also true that not all of our shelters are fully occupied,” he said.
Lakshminarayana believes NGOs working with the homeless can bring about a change.
Bangaloreans Without a Roof Over Their Heads By government reckoning 2,858
As counted by an NGO network: 17,241
Actual number: 40,000 to 50,000
Combined capacity of BBMP shelters: 350
Bangalore has eight shelters for the homeless
J C Road, Rajarajeshwarinagar, Mahadevapura, Yelahanka New Town, Murphy Town, Bapujinagar, Goods Shed Road and Bommanahalli. The BBMP shut down two shelters, at Shivajinagar and Rajajinagar, over the past year.