CUTTACK: Very night, Surendra Kumar Behera and his group of six volunteers scan the narrow lanes of Cuttack to find homeless beggars sleeping on pavements or the verandahs of closed shops. They offer them a packet of food and water and urge them to shift to a shelter home.
"Some agree, many don’t because they have become used to alms," said Surendra. But the volunteers do not stop their drive. Like Surendra and his group, Manisha Behera and her six volunteers look out for beggars roaming on the streets and sitting near temples in the mornings.
The rescued beggars are rehabilitated in two Anandalayas - shelter homes for beggars, set up by Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC) and department of Social Security & Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SSEPD) at Kajipatna in Ward 56 and Bentakar in 42 Mouza.
Both Surendra and Manisha are not only managing the Anandalayas but also counselling the beggars to shift to the facilities for a better life. While Surendra and his team belong to a social outfit Vikash, Manisha is a member of Patita Udhar Samiti. They have been helping the civic body in its drive to rehabilitate the beggars in the city and provide them a life of dignity.
The drive started on April 15. So far, 78 beggars have been rescued and kept in the two Anandalayas. The facilities have the capacity to house 100 beggars each.
While Vikash has been entrusted with the operation and management of Anandalaya at Kajipatna where 33 elderly beggars have been rehabilitated, Patiata Udhar Samiti Pati is in charge of the facility at Bentakar where 45 differently-abled beggars have been housed.
While the inmates are provided food four times a day, the facilities are equipped with safe drinking water, TV and cots, among other things. "We also conduct several activities for them at the centre like yoga and kitchen gardening," said Manisha.
She added that although it is very difficult to convince the beggars and bring them to the shelters, they like the life here after getting used to it. "The morning prayers and yoga are having a great impact on the inmates," she added.
The SSEPD department spends Rs 3,403 on each inmate every month and people are allowed to make donations to run the Anandalayas. Several elderly inmates in both the facilities said they are happy to be getting good quality food every day.
"We do not have to sleep empty stomach now. At least, the last phase of our lives will be comfortable," said 62-year-old differently-abled Manasi Barik who used to beg in front of a temple. She has been rehabilitated at Bentakar's Anandalaya.
CMC Slum Improvement Officer Swetapadma Satpathy said there are plans to open another Anandalaya in the city soon. "We are also planning to impart skill training to some of the beggars taking into consideration their health condition and willingness to learn and work," she said.