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Mainstream, VOL LV No 51 New Delhi December 9, 2017

Helping the Homeless

Sunday 10 December 2017, by Bharat Dogra

As a train approaches an important station, there is a spurt of activity, particularly mobile phone calls, as passengers confirm about the car coming to pick them up. Even if they are not going to their home, most passengers are confident about where they will go at the end of a long train journey. But more often than not there are also some passengers who do not even know where they’ll go in the big city. Imagine coming to a crowded city without any confir-mation of where you can stay or even sleep at night, and without any financial support to keep you going even for a few days.

But this is exactly the way many migrants come to cities. What is perhaps even worse, many of them continue to stay homeless even after spending many years in the city. In our cities you can meet footpath-dwellers who will tell you that they have been staying this way for years or even decades.

But then you’ll ask—how could you cope all these years with adverse weather and illness? How could you eat when you were out of work? Well the reality is that many homeless people actually cannot eat and cannot survive. All over the country the homeless suffer from hunger as well as exposure to extreme weather conditions. Many of them die. Every year hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless die a nameless death. In addition many homeless women, children and teenagers are exposed to sexual abuse. In many places where the homeless somehow survive the conditions are such that many of them find it extremely difficult to escape the cycle of substance abuse, drug addiction and sexual exploitation.

But the good news is that all this can change and things can improve even in the middle of several difficulties. Paramjeet Kaur, Director of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, (AAA), a voluntary organisation devoted to protecting and promoting the rights of homeless people in Delhi, says: “Our experience of working with the homeless people in Delhi has established that when well planned efforts are made with dedication, then the situation can improve significantly within a reasonable time-frame of five to ten years.”

AAA not only teamed up with government authorities to improve the management of several shelters (including the additional tent shelters opened during winter months), but in addition its team tried to contact as many homeless people at night so that they could be informed about the shelter space available. In fact not just informed but also invited them to use these shelters. Many destitute persons in extremely poor physical, mental and emotional health were brought to shelters, and provided food, bed, medicare and above all emotional support.

AAA, in cooperation with the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), has provided badly needed medicare to homel-ess and destitute persons at a mobile health outreach clinic at Jama Masjid for over a decade. This was accompanied by a de-addiction clinic. Keeping in view the large number of desperately needy patients who came here, similar efforts were later started at two other points. Thanks to the dedicated work of doctors as well as volunteers, hundreds of lives have been saved by this health outreach to the most needy people of India’s Capital. In addition thousands have been saved from the worst effects of serious diseases, injuries and other ailments.

What is particularly interesting—and useful—about the AAA model of working for the homeless is that many homeless persons whom AAA helped initially later became involved in its activities and by becoming a part of AAA, they could also help many other homeless people.

The author isa free-lance journalist who has been involved with various social movements and initiatives.

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