By: Ashwin Parulkar
April 22, 2016
The idea for the India Homeless Resource Network (IHRN) arose in August 2015 in a symposium on homelessness in Jaipur organized by Centre for Equity Studies (CES), The Banyan Academy of Leadership on Mental Health (BALM), Institute of Development Studies-Jaipur (IDS) and Taabar in Jaipur.
Organizations working with people on the streets and shelters of Chennai, Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Kolkata met to learn about local responses to homelessness across India. The central question was how collaborative research may lead to better responses to deprivations homeless people face in terms of:
Each of the organizations had worked on various dimensions of these problems for years.
In Delhi, CES was running a health recovery shelter for homeless men with tuberculosis, HIV and physical injuries and a mobile street medicine clinic that was visiting homeless communities four nights a week. A doctor, nurse and two social workers provided care and referral services to shelters, special care providers and hospitals.
In Chennai, The Banyan was providing mental health care to men and women with psychiatric illnesses and psychosocial traumas through a system of outreach, in patient care and after care in coordination with local hospitals, government officials and volunteer groups.
Koshish-Tata Institute of Social Sciences was training and linking homeless men and women to job placement programs and providing legal services for people detained in custodial centres in Delhi and Mumbai under beggary laws.
Each organization's experience on the ground informed their research on dimensions of homelessness. Dialogue with policymakers lead, in some cases, to reforms or creation of policies that acknowledge the rights of homelessness to social programmes.
Koshish-TISS, for instance, was leading efforts to reform beggary laws in coordination with social workers across India. Their efforts led to agreements by a few states to reform the law.
The Banyan helped draft the 2013 National Mental Health Care Bill, a repeal of the 1987 version of the law, which includes provisions for outreach, identification and psychosocial care of homeless people.
Sometimes, however, seemingly favorable policy changes do not reflect what is needed in certain contexts on the ground.
The example of Sarbani Das Roy of Ishwar Sankalp was illuminating. She had worked for nearly a decade with mentally ill people on the streets of Kolkata. When she and her colleagues began work in 2007 the team didn't have resources to start a shelter. There were no state funded shelters at the time.
Her team began outreach services in the city, identifying homeless men and women and visiting them regularly to understand their problems. Ishwar Sankalp obtained a shelter on lease from the government in 2010. Ms. Das Roy's experiences on the streets convinced her that outreach services for Kolkata's homeless were as essential as shelter. She assembled more volunteer groups on the streets. This model of focused street based care is different than in Delhi and Chennai and an important example of how it is essential to think of unique forms of community responses that should inform public policy.
The 2010 Supreme Court Orders directed cities to construct one homeless shelter in areas with a population of at least 100,000 residents. This was a positive stept forward but there is far more ground to cover. Delhi's nearly 300 shelters provide space for about 18 to 19 thousand people. By some estimates, Delhi's homeless population is over 100,000. In winters -- when media highlights homeless deaths on the streets -- only 4,000 people a night sleep in shelters. These inconsistencies require research to understand conditions homeless people face that would impact their access to or usage of shelters.
Before 2010, government responses to homelessness were negative. Court decisions facilitated nearly 200 demolitions between 1990 and 2008 in New Delhi. Less than half of affected residents have been rehabilitated. Beggary laws are also still used to detain homeless people in custodial centers.
In the August 2015 meeting, the question arose - how do we communicate knowledge on homelessness to policymakers and the public?
A network of organizations committed to research and dissemination of the issue was our answer. This consortium now consists of The Banyan, Centre for Equity Studies, Centre for Policy Research, Institute of Development Studies in Jaipur and Koshish-TISS. We hope to extend the network to include organizations across the country. We also hope that information on homelessness will lead to greater collaboration between think tanks, governments and NGOs on the design and implementation of social policies for people on the streets and shelters of India's growing cities.