A month-and-a-half ago, according to 40-year-old Alexander*, he was an electrician and plumber. Before that, he did several things – tailoring work and moulding among them, he said. He plans to go back home soon, but when is unclear. As of now, he is a fulltime resident of a Chennai Corporation shelter run by a non-governmental organisation in Dooming Kuppam.

In September 2012, a resolution was passed by the Corporation Council to rope in NGOs to run its night shelters, following an inspection by a Supreme Court-appointed committee. A year-and-a-half later, all 28 Corporation night shelters in the city are run by various NGOs. For the over 11,000 homeless persons in the city, the shelters are also their only source of food.

The shelter at Dooming Kuppam, at the end of a long, winding lane, is bright and sunny. Run by The Banyan, it does several things – it caters to homeless mentally ill men who are fulltime residents and also operates a night shelter for men who work but need a place to spend the night. “We also run a soup kitchen every day, where a free hot meal is provided to those who want it. Around 15 homeless people use this daily,” said Mrinalini Ravi, programme associate.

In addition, every day, volunteers go out into the community for ‘street engagement’. “This involves going out in a 5 km radius and distributing food to the homeless. The idea is to let them know that they’re not alone. If they want to, they can come access our services. If not, that’s fine too,” said Ms. Ravi.

On a Wednesday morning, most of the residents are involved in day-care activities, with cards and drawing. Some are still napping, while those who are employed have left for work. Most of 30-odd fulltime residents are young men – the average age here is 32. And many are from outside the city. Pradeep,* for instance, is from Kerala. “When can I go back home,” he kept asking

“His family does not want to take him back so we are trying to find an NGO in Kerala that can help him,” Ms. Ravi said.

Every week, a psychiatrist, Kishore Kumar K.V., sees the men, and reviews their medication. The costs of the medication are borne by the Corporation.

Once treatment has been given and their condition improves, the shelter attempts to rehabilitate them, either with their families or independently.

Rehabilitation is key to the process – at another Corporation shelter run out of the Communicable Disease Hospital in Tondiarpet, 67 men and 65 women have so far been united with their families. The shelter, run by the NGO Anbagam, has taken in a total of 254 mentally ill men and women, its founder-trustee Mohamed Rafi said.

From the Corporation’s end, the project has worked very well, a senior official said. In March, the civic body announced the identification of rented premises for 40 more shelters. “We have 28 now, with two more nearly ready. With the 40 proposed shelters, the total number will be 70, which is the minimum number required for the city. We have planned to rope in NGOs to run the 40 new shelters as well,” he said.

*Names changed

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