A group of volunteers spend a night like the homeless. Vipasha Sinha finds out how the experience impacted them
‘Under the stars,’ may mean different things to different people. For some it’s a perfect ambiance for a cosy dinner, for others it’s a date with the twinkling stars. But for many, it’s a sign of helplessness.
There are many underprivileged who find refuge in public spaces and pavements as they cannot afford a roof above their head. During the ongoing Joy of Giving Week volunteers from several NGOs came together at different venues in the city to spend the night like the homeless.
One such gathering took place at the Light House railway station. After interacting with the inmates of the Dooming Kuppam Open Shelter for Homeless Men with Psycho-social Disabilities, the participants assembled at the railway station where they spent most of the night.
The event was organised by The Banyan. The commuters who frequently use this railway station were amused by a group of people sitting on newspapers. Those present belonged to different age groups and social backgrounds but had a common quest — to find out what it feels like to be without a home. Among them was an anthropologist from America Ned Dostaler, who is doing a fellowship programme offered by American India Foundation and is associated with The Banyan right now.
“I know that spending a night will not match up to the magnitude of the risk homeless people take everyday. I know that I have a home to get back to and a family to reach out to but this is certainly an experience that will help me reflect on life,” says Ned, who has studied about homelessness around the world. He adds, “There is homelessness around the world and even in America, but the magnitude of the problem here is larger.”
The organisers aim to create empathy among people through this event so that when they see a person in need, they can stop and help in whichever way they can. “It is quite an enriching experience. We take so many things for granted in life without sparing a thought about those who do not have a roof. This event is just a small insight into their lives. We sleep with a group of strangers, even in the rain,” says Aarti, a volunteer with Joy of Giving.
The event was promoted on social media that attracted many volunteers. Eighty Seven-year-old Paul Siromoni was one of the first persons to arrive. “I have been working with slum dwellers in Bengaluru for years. I had left a luxurious house to stay close to the slums, so that I could reach out to them whenever needed. When I heard about this, I immediately enrolled for it. Events like this are important to spread awareness, especially among youngsters,” he says. There were some who came to understand the way the poor live – what they come back to, how they shelter their belongings and who they turn to for safety.
Though it was just romancing the thought of being one of them for a night, it takes a lot to understand the impact of the homelessness. Bhanu, a student with Tata Institute of Social Sciences says, “I cannot wake up in the morning tomorrow and have a check list of things that it changed me. I will know over time, when specific circumstances arise. ”