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No Refuge for Chennai's Homeless

Lack of shelters for the homeless during the monsoon is one of the biggest problems Chennai faces.

Published: 02nd December 2015 04:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd December 2015 04:43 AM   |  A+A-

Refuge

CHENNAI: Few days back, Sudhakar was sitting near the bus stop on Evening Bazaar road in Park Town, when it suddenly began to rain heavily. Within a few minutes, he collapsed on the ground with seizures. His mother and sister who saw him from their house, a two-foot long tarpaulin strip, rushed to his rescue and took him to the entrance of a nearby store.

“He gets seizures when it rains, sometimes, and we couldn’t bring him home as water was leaking through the cloth,” said his sister Renuka. To their dismay, the shopkeeper shooed them away, threatening them to never come back. “It feels like hell sometimes, with absolutely no help. We need a permanent solution,” she said. 

According to a recent survey by the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC) in six zones, of the 8,325 homeless people residing in zones 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 11, over 90 per cent live with their families. Most of them have been living together for decades.

“I was born here,” said 32-year-old Latha Kumari, who lives in a pushcart wagon on Wall Tax road with her four children. “This vehicle belongs to a distant cousin. We came here when the pavements got flooded. Living on the road becomes difficult, especially when the weather is like this. We take turns to stay awake. Given an option, I would like to move to another place. It’s tiring.”

According to the survey, 87 per cent of people declared a need for a permanent housing solution near their place of work. In a high-level committee meeting in March 2010, the State had highlighted necessary actions to be taken to improve infrastructure, funding, staffing, operations and maintenance in Okkiam Thoraipakkam, Semmancheri and Perumbakkam to accommodate over 25,000 households. Experts and a few residents say that a lot remains incomplete.

“The idea should be to provide a decent facility in a place where families can eke out a living. These tenements do not cater to those requirements,” said Vanessa Peter from IRCDUC. In Tamil Nadu, the Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department is the nodal department for implementing the Shelter for the Homeless programme under the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM). Experts say that till date, there are no state specific operational guidelines in place and that only the Project Sanctioning Committee has been constituted. “Even though the Government subscribes to the NULM guidelines for the scheme for shelter, crucial issues including the Housing Continuum as well as the roles and responsibilities of various state departments remain unaddressed,” said Vanessa.

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The Supreme Court in its handbook on ‘Shelters for Urban Homeless’ says that any programme for the urban homeless must envisage shelters as a necessary first step for the homeless to escape from any disaster-like situation. However, shelters for the homeless should not be their final destination. The solution needs to be decent, affordable social housing. A shelter is only the first point of intervention and cannot replace the right to housing for all.

Corporation officials said that these families have two options — to either move to shelters, or relocate to the Integrated Township at Perumbakkam.

“We are taking steps to accommodate them, and we are putting up more shelters. The problem is with their mindset; they simply do not want to move, and instead eat leftovers from hotels on the street,” said a senior official from the Chennai Corporation.

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