Glimmer of hope: BMC plans community centres

Nowhere to go: A homeless person takes shelter under Metro 2B corridor in Dahisar.

Nowhere to go: A homeless person takes shelter under Metro 2B corridor in Dahisar.   | Photo Credit: Aadesh Choudhari

Homeless people left to fend for themselves in midst of crisis with no access to water, electricity

“We have always had a water problem, but it was never this bad,” says Radha Rajput, who lives with five other homeless families in Charni Road, adding that they were having to literally beg for water for their daily needs.

“Since the lockdown, only one toilet is open. That too for barely 30 minutes in the morning. As soon as the queue increases, they shut it down,” she said. Her story is similar to that of nearly one lakh people across the city, who do not have access to even basic needs such as water or electricity.

Brijesh Arya of the Beghar Adhikar Abhiyan said that homeless communities have been badly hit on several fronts. “While food is an issue, it is water that is a major concern. Most homeless people don’t have access to water and usually rely on local shops, railway stations, temples or mosques to cater to their daily needs. The other issue is toilets, as many have shut pay and use toilets out of fear,” Mr. Arya said

Jayashree Bhoj, additional municipal commissioner, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), said they were planning to rehabilitate families in eight community centres spread across the city. She said schools were also being looked at a possibility by officers at various BMC wards.

Mr. Arya said he welcomed the move to rehabilitate the homeless but all of them should be provided with health check-ups once they were in the community centres or schools and proper social distancing should be facilitated. Sitaram Shelar from Centre for Promoting Democracy said they had come to know that at the ward level, efforts were being made to open up schools for the homeless as well. “We don’t want them to fill schools beyond a point as that would defeat the purpose. The other crucial thing they should take care of is that families should be rehabilitated together as a unit, with their belongings, and not be separated,” he said.

With the city staring at a 21 day lockdown, several prominent organisations have started mobilising resources to provide basic food items for the worst affected by the economic lockdown such as homeless communities and daily wage labourers, but faced major hurdles by way of mobility and travel restrictions.

According to the 2011 census, in Mumbai alone, the population of homeless is 57,415. Mr. Arya said that today the real number easily exceeds one lakh, most of whom depend on daily wage jobs, hawking or small businesses. Ms. Rajput said she and others were primarily in the business of stitching flowers for gajras and torans. “Our biggest day to earn is Gudi Padwa, where historically we earn at least ₹1,000. With that gone and all other avenues of income shut, we have literally nothing left,” she said.

‘Distribution an issue’

“Distribution is a major issue as homeless communities are scattered across the city in large and small clusters and in some cases it’s just individual families,” he said, adding that there could be as many as 300 clusters spread across the city.

“Communication is the other major issue as people living in these homeless communities used to charge their phones in shops. With the lockdown, several had been unable to charge their phones and we have lost touch with them,” he said. Since the lockdown, Mr. Arya, said that he had managed to visit a only a few homeless communities on Friday after nearly five days.

In some wards, BMC has also started to provide cooked meals to the homeless, but activists feel that that issue was spread across the city and needed a citywide response by the BMC or the State government till the lockdown was lifted.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 2:27:12 AM |

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