Rough sleepers harried by mounting debt, not COVID-19

A man receiving vaccination at a special drive organised by the Kochi Corporation on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: H. VIBHU

A former autorickshaw driver from Kottayam who now lives under the Ernakulam north overbridge says he is more worried about paying off a mountain of debt than contracting COVID. Nevertheless, he was at the Ernakulam Town Hall on Wednesday during a vaccination camp organised by the Kochi Corporation for homeless persons.

“Looks like COVID is prone to attack people in air-conditioned rooms and homes with walls. We don’t have any of that,” he said while he waited out the half-hour observation period post-vaccination. “At least 50 of us live under the bridge, and as far as we know, we haven’t fallen sick yet,” said the man in his 50s who has studied till class 12.

He has counted 110 days since he hitch-hiked from Kottayam, arrived in Kochi and began to spend all his nights and some of his days beneath the bridge. Estranged from his family, he is struggling to pay off the debt he has accumulated over the years and is on the lookout for a steady job. Strangers provide packets of food sometimes, and now since the lockdown set in, the police have been distributing meals, he said, adding, “If somebody finds a day’s work and can buy some food, they share.”

“Some are intermittently employed. Sometimes, we get asked to sell fruits by the wayside or help out in shops. The day usually begins with a walk to the railway station to use the washrooms there. If somebody manages to buy a newspaper, we spend the day reading it. If there is no work, we wait around under the bridge and go to sleep around the time shops close. Now that it is raining, it is a long wait for space beneath the bridge to dry up before we can sleep,” he said.

“Contrary to what most people think, we are not using substances or getting drunk everyday. Some are always on the lookout for jobs and are hoping to return to their families,” he added.

Around 70 homeless people from the Ernakulam north area were identified for vaccination on Wednesday, said Mithun, a representative of Mirror, an NGO that has been working with the Kochi Corporation to roll out the vaccination drive. Twenty people, registered on the spot, took the shot in the first session. So far, the organisation has identified around 200 homeless people within the corporation limits, he added. The NGO is hoping to help with some means of long-term rehabilitation for such persons.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 10:23:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/rough-sleepers-harried-by-mounting-debt-not-covid-19/article34835048.ece

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