BENGALURU: Bengaluru has been seeing an average temperature of 20 degree celsius for the past few weeks. A 79-year-old woman, who lives at the Balekundri Circle, has only a saree to protect her against the chilling cold. It is the only clothing she owns. “I do not have a place to go,” says the woman, who did not want to be named, living on a footpath near an Ayyappa temple in Cantonment area.
The city owes her a well-ventilated shelter, according to the National Urban Livelihood Mission, that has proper sanitation, potable water, regularly cleaned bedding, fi rst aid and cooking facilities, among other things. But she does not know of this like many other homeless City Express spoke to. The shelters are hard to fi nd, even for someone who can Google or make calls. We made a call to the BBMP helpline and the person who answered did not know of the shelters or where we could locate one. Under the Mission, the Urban Local Body or the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Pallike has to not just know but advertise the presence of such shelters to the target population, namely the homleless.
The city is direly short of shelters. According to the NULM, there is to be one shelter per lakh population. Bengaluru has 84 lakh residents and should therefore have 80 odd shelters. Sadly, we have six or eight shelters, depending on who you ask. Nirashritra Parihara Kendra is a government-run home for the rehabilitation of beggars on Magadi Road. An employee here says that if a person needs a shelter, they guide them to a privately run shelter. “The BBMP ones are run down,” the person says. The BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad was not available for comment.
T Raja, popularly known as Auto Raja, runs a shelter for the homeless and it has 600 inmates at present. There has been a rush this winter with eight coming in only this week. “Whenever cops fi nd people who need help, particularly old people who cannot walk, they bring them to me,” he says. Funds for the Mission have been allocated for this year. According to a circular issued by the Ministry of Urban Housing and Poverty Alleviation, on April 26, `64 crore have been sanctioned to Karnataka. Most people, we found, live under fl yovers, on footpaths and inside bus stands and railway stations. Mani, from Koramangala, usually fi nds a place to rest on footpaths and inside bus stands.
“There is no fi xed space,” he says. “I wander around and stop when I fi nd any place comfortable.” A woman who was born with no arms sleeps near roadside shacks, near St Mary’s Basilica. She does not want to be named and says that she has no woollen clothes for the winter. Shelters are ideally to have special facilities to aid the disabled. Mustafa, who is also disabled, and stays under the fl yover at Ananda Rao Circle says he is “happy with this home”. “Recently, a passerby gave me a blanket, it helps me through the cold nights.” An elderly Nagamma is Mustafa’s neighbour.
“I have been here for the past ten years, ever since my husband died,” she says. “I have no one to look after me. I beg around the bus station and subways to buy something to eat.” She has no money for warm clothes. Good Samaritans, like the one who gave Mustafa a blanket, are also distributing food in KG Road near Majestic Bus Stop. “We don’t know their name,” says a woman who gets food from them every Sunday. “They don’t give winter clothes though.” Homeless does not imply begging for a living. A fruit vendor from Bihar sleeps in the heart of Russel Market, along with many others.
He has only light summer clothes, he says, “like the others. The cold becomes unbearable for all of us." Another fruit vendor, a 40-year-old woman, says that a stranger offered her a blanket a few days ago. “Last December too, few people had distributed jackets,” she says, “I don’t know who they are.”
Another vendor, in KR Market, lives on the pavement with her three and four-year-old children. Dhanashekar, who is from Vellore, says that the drizzle over the last few days has made it diffi cult to fi nd a spot to rest. There is a rush for every inch. He has found a roof at a corner in St John’s Medical College, Madiwala. “I have been living in this city for the past 40 years,” he says. “I struggle to walk and can’t work. I have no family or home. The rains are making it harder.”