Despite the number of homeless people rising in Bengaluru, there are not many night shelters to accommodate them. Most of them are migrants coming to the city in search of work. They come for a few days and leave. So they don’t bother to look for a place to stay. Although aware of the situation, neither the state government nor the BBMP is doing anything to help such people, report Nikil G. and Aknisree Karthik
With winter setting in, nights in the city are getting chilly, making it hard to venture out late evening without being warmly wrapped up. While people in homes shut their windows to keep the cold air out, hundreds of homeless don’t have this luxury and instead brave the chill of the night sleeping on the footpaths, at bus stands or any other place they can find to spread their thin mats or blankets.
A recent survey done by the BBMP in association with a couple of private agencies says over 1,500 people spend their nights on pavements and other places outdoors in the city. But it is believed there are over 20,000 homeless in the city who spend their nights on the streets. If they are lucky, they are left alone, but if not, they are chased away by the police and forced to find yet another place to lay down and rest.
Unlike the popular perception, 80 per cent of people who are homeless are not beggars, but daily wage labourers, who come to the city from various parts of the country to earn a livelihood and cannot afford rented accommodation, according to a senior officer of the Social Welfare Department.
“Bengaluru is known for its floating population made up of migrants coming here in search of work. They come for a week or a few days and leave. And so they don’t bother to look for a place to stay. A few keep working for longer, but prefer to sleep on the pavements to save every penny to take back home,” explains the officer. A typical example of this tribe of people are the vendors trying to sell goods at traffic signals, he adds.
While agreeing that hundreds of homeless sleep on the pavements, underpasses, under- bridges, at bus stands and other places in the city, a senior police officer says it is difficult to keep track of them as they do not have an identity card on them. “Recently, a man in his forties was found dead on the footpath in the Majestic area, but we couldn’t identify him in the absence of any kind of document on him. When we asked around, people said he sold caps at traffic signals and returned at night to sleep on the footpath,” he recounts.
In his view the only way to keep tabs of such people is to provide them night shelters. “There is a need for a proper system to keep a check on the flow of the people into a city like Bengaluru,” he underlines.
But sadly, despite the rising number of homeless in the city, there are not enough night shelters to accommodate them. One social welfare officer claims the entire state has only 35 night shelters and of them 10 are in the city. “There is huge work to be done in this area by the government. Although aware of the situation it is doing nothing about it and nor is the BBMP. Keeping in mind the volume of people the city attracts, we need at least 150 night shelters. The people using them can be charged a minimal amount or allowed to stay for free,” he suggests.
Ask a BBMP official and he admits that although it is allotted a separate fund for construction and maintenance of night shelters for the poor, it has barely used it. “At a recent meeting, the issue did come up for discussion. The existing night shelters are looked after by NGOs, but they complain they are not given enough funds by the BBMP. We need another 100 shelters to ensure that no one is left sleeping on the roads. These shelters need to be in central areas and not on the outskirts, as no one would like to travel long distances to get to them. We are in the process of identifying locations to establish more shelters and will submit a detailed report on this as soon as possible,” he assures
‘One shelter needed for every 1 lakh population’
Under the norms of the National Urban Livelihood Mission, every city must have one night shelter for every one lakh population. What’s more, the shelters are supposed to be equipped with beds, bedsheets, pillows, toilets and have proper ventilation. But despite Bengaluru’s large population, the city has only six shelters to offer its homeless. Even worse, most are shabby and dirty. Maintained by NGOs with aid from the BBMP, these shelters are not regularly cleaned and have disgusting toilets, says a social worker from Chaluwadipalya. “The funds given to them by the BBMP are not put to right use by a number of the NGOs involved, who instead swindle the money. Such NGOs often work hand- in glove with corrupt officials, who warn them about inspections and help them get ready for them. Before the inspectors arrive, clean bedsheets, blankets and pillows are put on the beds and the shelter is cleaned to hoodwink them,” he says. As this gives the impression that everything is fine with the facility, the NGOs in question manage to get the money they need, which they proceed to pocket instead of spending it on its upkeep, he claims. “Moreover, the unscrupulous among these NGOs inflate the number of inmates they have to pocket even more money,” he deplores. Ask Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun about this and she says the BBMP hasn’t received any complaint on the condition of the night shelters. “I will follow this up with the officials concerned and also plan surprise inspections of these shelters,” she promised.
Q&A: Steps will be taken to build more shelters in city, says Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun
Are you aware of the struggles of the homeless in the city ?
Yes, I am very much aware of their struggles and the lack of night shelters for the homeless.
What action have you taken?
The BBMP is there for the welfare of the people. I have directed the officials concerned to take suitable action in this regard. I will soon have a meeting with them to know more about the status and build night shelters for the needy.
Night shelters run by NGOs with BBMP support reportedly do not have adequate facilities and are said to be inflating the numbers they serve to merely corner more funds.
We haven’t got any complaints about this. I will follow this up with the officials concerned and also plan surprise inspections of these shelters.