COVID-19 | Mumbai’s homeless pushed to the edge in crisis

Nowhere to go: A homeless woman sits at a deserted junction in Masjid Bunder on the day of Janata Curfew.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Nakwe

For Nasim Mohammed Shaikh, who lives on the footpath outside JJ Hospital, Sunday was harrowing. With the city shutting down on account of the Janata Curfew, she, along with over 40 families who live on the pavement, were left scrounging for food and water. “We have been cooking and eating whatever we have. Stocks from the local ration shop were over long ago and vegetable prices have hit the roof,” said Mr. Shaikh.

With the city in lockdown, homeless citizens have been left in the lurch, and city activists have urged the State government to take quick action to mitigate a threat to their survival.

Brijesh Arya, convener of the Homeless Collective, said the community mostly survives on daily wages. “When Mumbai is in a lockdown situation, local shops are closing one by one, street food shops will be shut and the homeless will suffer unimaginably,” he said.

The situation, he said, was getting dire as activists could not reach them with supplies of food and water due to the lockdown.

Sitaram Shelar of the Pani Haq Samiti, said the lack of water was among the key issues they were faced with at this hour. “They are among the most vulnerable population in the city and the majority don’t have access to the public distribution system. It is imperative that the government do something for them immediately,” he said.

According to the 2011 census, there were 57,415 homeless people in Mumbai. Mr. Shelar said that some estimates peg it at close to a lakh. “The ones living alone who could leave the city have gone, but nearly 75% of the homeless live here with their families. Where will they go?” Mr. Arya said.

The government, he said, should look at temporarily shifting the homeless into empty municipal buildings or schools, where basic provisions such as electricity, safe drinking water and sanitation are available.

Mr. Shaikh said that with the lockdown in place, many were also worried about their jobs and whether they will even be paid for the days they have worked so far.

“We don’t know what the future holds for us. Some of us continue to work in people’s homes, but we don’t know how long that will last,” he said.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 2:36:03 PM |

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