Homeless & alone

City streets are home to thousands of homeless people, brought to that state by economic, social and health factors such as poverty, mental and physical illness, substance addiction, neglect and others
Representational image
Representational imageexpress illustration

We often see a man, bereft of clothes and dignity, walking on the roads, often mumbling something aimlessly to himself and those around him. Often, a stray canine, as if in company to his encores, barks. Our social mannerisms by default make us look the other way, away from his nakedness and our sensibilities.

The man with no clothes and no apparent hesitation at being naked is the true self of an unwanted, mentally and physically ill homeless person. Do we have a count of how many such homeless people live on and off the roads like pariahs, and die without a claim?

Take the case of late Mutthuswamy, who always had his way with his customers while selling lemons door to door. His smile was infectious, and even if you didn’t understand his colloquial Tamil, you would know he was wishing you well as he handed over lemons from his gunny sack. Muthu had a large heart and lived on the street with his wife, till the pandemic claimed his life.

When asked why he didn’t have a house or lived with his children, he raised his hands in a manner of thanksgiving and said they were happy without a ‘home’. It turned out their children had thrown them out of the house, and Muthu and his wife were too poor to afford their own dwelling.

The couple earned their living selling lemons, and Muthu didn’t accept charity. He died an honourable man. Another familiar protagonist in the saga of homeless persons is a bearded man living inside a dilapidated and abandoned bus stop. A plastic bottle for water and an old bag containing all his belongings.

Homelessness is a tragic manifestation of varied underlying economic, social and health factors such as poverty, mental and physical illness, substance addiction, lack of affordable housing, family breakdown and neglect etc. According to the United Nations, “homelessness not only indicates a state failure to guarantee access to safe, affordable and adequate housing for all, it violates as well a number of other human rights”, more importantly, the right to life, which “entails in itself more than mere survival, as it encompasses the core notion that everyone has the right to enjoy her or his life in dignity”. “Homelessness is stigmatized and often addressed with criminalization, violence and aggressive policies that violate, rather than safeguard, the rights of the persons involved,” the world body adds.

A person can suffer homelessness for a temporary period or lifetime. A completely homeless person is one who lives without shelter. There are others who experience partial, temporary or sub-standard homelessness. “Among the homeless population, around 30 per cent have a diagnosable mental illness,” said Dr K Janaki Raman, associate professor, Psychiatric Social Work (PSW), National Institute of Mental Health & Social Sciences (Nimhans).

“That poverty leads to homelessness is well understood. Medical expenses are a common cause for driving people and families into poverty,” said Dr Sanjeev Jain, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry, Nimhans. He added that “a very large proportion of the homeless are those who are, or have been, mentally ill. Being homeless, they also lose identity documents which makes it almost impossible for them to access healthcare. Being homeless and mentally ill poses a severe challenge for healthcare, as there are only a few thousand beds in government mental health hospitals for the million or more people who need these services. NGO services do offer a helping hand, but to receive by charity, what should be a right (to healthcare) raises uncomfortable questions,” added Jain.

3K homeless people in Bengaluru

According to Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), there are 30 to 40 members at any given time in their 49 shelter homes. The civic body, under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), has set up shelter homes under ‘Ashraya Yojane’ and provides basic boarding and lodging amenities.

There are night shelters to provide care and comfort to people who come to the city for work, or have left home due to domestic issues. They are brought into the shelter by officials after following procedures like police verification, health checkup etc. “If some people don’t go back home, their families are informed and they are discharged once the family arrives,” said an official.

“Shelter homes are meant for temporary stay. Orphans and extremely sick people are not taken in and are referred to other departments,” a senior official from the BBMP welfare department said, adding that the government spends between Rs 50,000 and Rs 90,000 monthly on each shelter home for its maintenance.

In a survey done by voluntary organisations ‘Project Smile’, ‘Aaladmara’, ‘Thanal’ and HBS Hospital under the project ‘Namma Kutumba’ (programme for homeless) in Bengaluru, “around 3,300 homeless people were found on the streets of Bengaluru, with 80 per cent men and 20 per cent women. Among these, around 40 per cent of homeless people seemed to be suffering from various mental illnesses,” said Programme Director, Namma Kutumba, Syed Tousif Masood.

Launched in June 2022, Namma Kutumba has a steps-based intervention programme that takes into account basic needs of hygiene and healthcare, besides documentation and re-integration of the homeless into society. The programme has dedicated teams and social workers. It has four ambulances, 12-15 medical camps, including psychiatric wards for men in HBS Hospital, and for women in Grandma Homes. They also have emergency care, recovery centres and medical care across Bengaluru.

“Homelessness is a huge issue and we are operating at a very basic level,” said a Namma Kutumba spokesperson. He added that 95 per cent of homeless shelters take in “clean and hygienic persons because they are grossly understaffed and poorly resourced”.

However, those using BBMP shelter homes vouch for the living conditions and say they have regular water and electricity supply, besides three meals. Most homeless people work and save their earnings with zero expenditure, and move out within a few months, making room for others.

BBMP’s Namma Mane shelter Akshaya Trust in Jayanagar is an all-male shelter with a capacity of 22 people. Currently, 19 people are staying there. Akshaya Trust for Women, with a capacity for 34, has 25 inmates. Surabhi Trust, meant for 40 people, currently houses 29.

Marietta, an inmate of Akshaya Trust and popularly called Maria, considers the shelter “home away from home”. She has been living at the shelter for the past two months after her husband passed away due to a blood clot in the brain. She told TNIE that her brother-in-law took advantage of the situation and got their property transferred to his name when her husband was in coma. Maria has a daughter who supports her daily needs but she prefers to stay at the shelter, and considers it “safer”.

Abandoned for varied reasons

This is the reality of homeless people, abandoned by their loved ones for reasons such as poverty, illness and addiction, among others. Many are dementia patients who get lost after they leave home, they forget their names and are called by different names in the shelters.

In Mysuru, a recent survey by Mysuru City Corporation identified 378 homeless people as against 202 in a previous survey in December 2022, with an equal number of men and women. The age group of the homeless is between 20 years and 65 years. Most of the elderly homeless persons were abandoned by their children. MCC has taken up initiatives to construct shelters for the homeless, said MCC commissioner Ashaad-ur-Rahman Shariff.

In Udupi, 2,000 applications were received by Udupi City Municipal Council from those who wanted government assistance to own a house. The applicants are from a weak economic background and are residing in makeshift structures without basic amenities. With the help of the Karnataka Slum Development Board, 600 houses were readied by Udupi CMC in Saralebettu area in Udupi, and 240 of them have already occupied those houses. In the next phase, 220 houses will be given to applicants who have paid their contribution of Rs 90,000. KSDB has also approved another 400 houses at Saralebettu for the homeless, however, the funds are yet to be earmarked by the state government for this phase of the project.

Sources informed The New Indian Express that though several people in rural areas (gram panchayat limits) have also sought housing facilities through gram panchayats, there is no collated data available at the ZP office to know how many applications are pending under various schemes, seeking housing facilities in rural parts of the district.

Home loans by government

In Kalaburagi, as per the survey conducted in 2018, there were 1,60,353 houseless families in the district. As the government started fixing a target for providing home loans with subsidy under various housing schemes in 2022, and from 2022 to 2024, loans with subsidy were given to 12,319 beneficiaries and they have constructed houses, said Chief Executive Officer, Kalaburagi Zilla Panchayat, Bhamvarsingh Meena. He said that as on date, 1,48,034 families are houseless and they are being given loans as per the decision taken in Grama Sabhas. The loan ranges from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.20 lakh, which is given in four phases to the beneficiaries, after inspection of the construction of the houses.

Rajashekhar Tenginmath from Ratkarl village of Kalagi taluk said after his house collapsed, he applied to the Grama Panchayat (GP) around five years ago for a housing loan. His pleas have not been heard so far. “We continue to live in a dilapidated house,” Rajashekhar said.

The Destitute Centre of Vijayapura presently has 172 inmates, of whom around 33 are from different states and suffering from mental illness.

“While the majority are from Vijayapura, some are from other states. Some are suffering from mental illness and don’t have details of their address,” said Basu Natikar, superintendent of the destitute centre. He added that around 15 people have been staying at the centre for over three years, the maximum time allowed

(With inputs from Mohd Yacoob and Archisha Jetly from Bengaluru, Prakash Samaga from Udupi, BK Lakshmikantha from Mysuru, Ramakrishna Badseshi from Kalaburagi, Firoz Rozindar from Vijayapura)

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