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The issue of homelessness extends beyond “rooflessness” and a lack of safe housing. Vulnerable persons who are in shelters, crisis housing, or temporary housing can also be considered homeless. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, someone who lacks access to adequate housing that is also safe and secure is considered homeless. In India, 1.77 million persons, or 0.15% of the population, were homeless as of the 2011 census. The real number was higher than these figures. Additionally, a sizable majority of those who are homeless are mentally ill or young children. However, recent developments indicate that multidimensional poverty is becoming less prevalent; in fact, in 2020, the percentage fell to 6% from 54.7% at the time of independence.
CAUSES OF HOMELESSNESS
According to the most recent data, there were 18.78 million vacant urban homes in India between 2012 to 2017; The difference affected low-income households by 95%. Between 26 and 37 million households, including those in slums and unlicensed dwellings, were estimated to be living in informal housing in 2016 by the Foundations Strategy Group (FSG). According to the 2011 Census, there are roughly 108,000 of these slums in the nation, which are home to 13 million households, of which 3.6 million are renter households. The percentage of slum households in the urban population is 17%. In addition, there are 11 million empty dwellings in India’s urban areas. Basic services in slums are incredibly poor: 71% of them lack access to underground sewage, 66% have open drainage or no drainage at all, and 41% have either dry-pit latrines or no latrine facilities at all. Most of these slum dwellings are either pucca (or intended to be permanent, at 59 %) or semi-pucca (at 25 %), and the majority of them are in good (58 %) or livable (58 %) condition (37 %).
Slum households typically lack tenure security. During initiatives to clear slums and eliminate encroachments, as well as for “beautification” projects and those related to the “Smart Cities Mission,” some 280,000 individuals were forcibly evicted between 2017 and 2019. In the same time frame, 46,400 more residents were forced to leave their homes to make room for state housing projects. To be true, depending on the classification at the Central and state levels, tenure security differs throughout slums. Under the Slum Act, households in slums that have been “notified” are exempt from eviction and are eligible for basic services from local governments. They are also qualified for rehabilitation if they are relocated. Meanwhile, “recognised” slums exist in official records but are not reported under the Slum Act.
Slums that have been “recognised” in the Census have been counted, but their states do not recognise them. Residents of “recognised” and “identified” slums (non-notified slums) are easily expulsive, and local governments are not legally obligated to offer them any essential services. As a result, the quality of basic services varies depending on the type of slum. While just 15% of inhabitants in notified slums lack access to latrines, this number rises to 42% in unnotified slums. While 32% of recognised slum residents claim to have benefited from slum improvement programs, this percentage reduces to 18% in unnotified slums.
‘Unidentified’ slums, which are settlements with less than 60 households, are another type of informal housing. According to the 2016 FSG report, there are an estimated 0.08-3.04 million households living in unidentified slums that are not listed in official statistics. Typically, these slums are situated on pavement, outside municipal lines, or on substandard terrain that may not be fit for human occupancy. Unknown slums have the weakest degree of basic services out of all the slum classifications. These slums may be multiplying as a result of evictions and the dissolution of larger slums.
Poverty has a direct impact on homelessness. The need for housing, which consumes a significant portion of their income, forces the poor to choose between these two needs. 6.7% of Indians live below the $1.25 per day benchmark for poverty.
Unemployment is another factor contributing to poverty. At the moment, 23% of Indians are unemployed. The primary cause is the displacement of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs by occupations in the service sector, some of which may demand a higher level of education. The average Indian has less access to higher education because of the country’s low per capita income, which prevents the youth from being prepared for the labour market of the twenty-first century.
- Other Factors that cause homelessness include:
- the industrial economy changes that cause unemployment
- removing patients with mental health issues from institutions
- disease, either physical or mental
- abusing drugs
- Domestic abuse
WHAT KIND OF HOMELESSNESS IS THERE?
Depending on how long a person has been homeless, different forms of homelessness can be identified.
- Chronic homelessness: A person who has experienced extended periods of homelessness or who frequently experienced homelessness in the previous two years. They typically have chronic health issues like mental illness, substance use disorders, physical disability, or medical diseases. Access to healthcare is limited, which might exacerbate these diseases.
- Episodic Homelessness: A person who has experienced homelessness three or more times in the past year or who has experienced it on and off throughout their life. Many people experiencing episodic homelessness also battle with health conditions, mental illnesses, or addiction problems.
- Transitional Homelessness: A person who, due to a catastrophe or unplanned incident, finds themselves temporarily homeless. They frequently check into shelters or short-term accommodation for just one stay. The most typical form of homelessness is this one.
CHALLENGES EXPERIENCED BY THE HOMELESS
- The communities most adversely impacted by homelessness include women, children, individuals with disabilities, and migratory workers. The primary contributor to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and poor health is said to be homelessness.
- People without housing frequently do not have access to schooling. Children of the homeless are unable to access educational facilities because of their transient housing, which frequently changes. Additionally, homeless kids lack the stability and support they need to excel in school.
- Health Concerns: Homeless persons frequently reside in unsanitary, hazardous, and uninhabitable environments, making them susceptible to a variety of illnesses. Malnutrition and even mental health problems are common among the homeless.
- Food insecurity: Those who are homeless must also deal with the issue of surviving. Just consider how challenging it would be for someone to live without a home. These individuals battle for food, which is the most fundamental need.
- No Employment: Homelessness has unemployment as both a cause and a difficulty. Unemployed people have no source of income and struggle to locate suitable homes.
- No Access to Rights: We have seen how homelessness causes people to become unemployed, which violates their right to work, as well as how it prevents them from accessing education, which violates their right to education, health, and food, as well as their political rights because many of them aren’t even registered to vote, among other rights.
- Denied of government benefit programmes: Because they lack access to them, homeless people are also deprived of government programmes and welfare measures. Additionally, the government has a hard time connecting with this social stratum.
- The major causes of homeless persons not receiving benefits from government programmes are a lack of government will and lack of information.
PREVENTION OF HOMELESSNESS
No matter how good the services are for the homeless, the greatest way to end homelessness is to stop it before it starts. As a result, effective preventive measures are required. We must also acknowledge the limitations of total prevention and work to at least partially halt the issue.
Homelessness is a bad situation since it has an impact on both people and society. For vulnerable populations like children, the disabled, and women, it is extremely detrimental. The children will be impacted by undernourishment, low birth weight, lack of education, and illiteracy. Inadequate systems for food, shelter, and cleanliness add to the women’s problems, as does the lack of privacy and security. Elderly people and those with disabilities lack access to healthcare and social dignity.
Exposure to dangerous substances directly affects the health of the homeless by increasing their risk of developing conditions like respiratory infections, skin conditions, and hypothermia.
The kids are particularly at risk because they are more likely to develop unhealthy addictions and use alcohol and other toxic drugs excessively, which can lead to health issues including liver damage. Risky sexual behaviour that results in the spread of STDs is one example of indirect consequences (STD). Violence among the homeless is also closely tied to drug and alcohol use.
The impacts of drugs and alcohol increase the predicament of the homeless in addition to unemployment and a challenging economic climate. Many persons who are homeless turn to illegal employment to support themselves. Scavenging, panhandling, plasma donation, street vending, bartering, recycling, and illicit activities like petty theft, prostitution, and drug dealing are examples of non-formal economic activity. Problems with social, economic, political, psychological, and health-related aspects of homelessness make it a complex issue. Homelessness has a long-lasting, upsetting effect that harms their relationships and wellbeing. To stop the social marginalisation of the homeless, other problems including inadequate medical care, drug use, dangerous sexual behaviour, violence, and unsafe shelters must be addressed right away.
EFFECT OF PANDEMIC ON HOMELESSNESS
According to a study done by the nonprofit organisation Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), the recent emergence of Covid-19 in Delhi resulted in violations of the human rights of the city’s homeless population. According to the report, the homeless suffer from acute food insecurity, loss of life, negative health effects, and other forms of deprivation and destitution in the absence of proper public support.
Nearly 83% of people surveyed by HLRN at the time had not received a vaccination, and more than 40% were unaware of the Covid vaccinations. 82% of people were living outside, primarily on the streets, while 17% had obtained housing in government shelters. For the study, HLRN phoned 72 homeless males and 43 homeless women between June 23 and July 1.
The report, “Impact of the Second Wave of the Pandemic on Delhi’s Homeless Population,” states that 58% of respondents were able to acquire a meal each day, compared to 9% of those without homes who claimed they were unable to get even one meal each day of the lockdown. Nearly 98% of the homeless people polled reported having no access to milk for their kids. Only 13% of the homeless population was able to eat during the lockdown thanks to government support. Nearly 91% of those polled said they had no jobs or other sources of income during the Covid closure.
HOW IS INDIA TRYING TO END HOMELESSNESS
Governmental and non-governmental organisations are attempting to assist the homeless.
Homeless shelters are provided by nonprofit organisations (NGOs) in India, such as the Salam Baalak Trust (SBT), which provides a haven for the country’s poor and homeless. Numerous NGOs provide free food, clothing, health care, education, and other services.
Giving homeless Indians assistance in obtaining identification is another method nonprofit organisations hope to decrease homelessness. And in India, an ID is required for nearly everything. Without one, many homeless people aren’t even eligible for government assistance. The same is required by many charities.
WHAT IS THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT DOING TO PREVENT HOMELESSNESS IN INDIA?
Currently, the Indian government is working to start inexpensive houses and shelters. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission is one such measure. For this objective to succeed, densely populated areas must demand from their landlord’s access to basic services like power and sewage.
Additionally, the National Urban Livelihood Mission initiative was launched by the government. This initiative intends to develop and provide more homeless shelters across the nation.
Last but not least, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) Scheme is another government programme that aims to reduce homelessness in the future. By 2022, all people would have access to affordable housing, according to the PMAY.
India created initiatives for the underprivileged and homeless for the first time during the 8th Five Year Plan (1992-1997). The Footpath Dwellers Night Shelter Scheme was implemented by the government in this scheme. The government acknowledged the right to access a roof over one’s head as a fundamental right in the 11th Five Year Plan (2007–12).
The National Urban Livelihood Mission, which gave recommendations to states for building and operating the shelters, was eventually put into effect by the federal government in 2013.
The government uses the PDS (Public Distribution System) to provide low-income people with cheaper access to food and grains. The absence of an official identity is another significant issue that the poor encounter. Only 3% of those who are homeless have valid identification. The impoverished are unable to take advantage of government services like the PDS without valid identification.
NATIONAL SHELTER POLICY
Following reports of numerous homeless people dying in New Delhi, the Supreme Court ordered the construction of one homeless shelter for every 100 residents in localities with populations greater than 100,000. This resulted in the National Shelter Policy. The shelters provided facilities for identification, safe drinking water, and cleanliness, all of which were later included in the National Policy on the Urban Homeless.
HOW IS THIS PROBLEM TREATED LEGALLY?
All individuals have the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (referred to as “the Constitution”). It is established law  that this right to life comprises the basic essentials of life, such as appropriate nutrition, clothes, housing, and freedom of movement, as well as the right to live with human dignity and everything it entails. In other words, Article 21 of the Constitution aims to guarantee not just a physical or animal existence, but also the right to life with dignity. As a corollary, it is reasonable to assume that the right to a home or a place to live aligns with the spirit of Article 21 of the Constitution and that homelessness does not comply with its requirements.
However, there are no laws in India that specifically address the problem of homelessness. Despite this, certain clauses in Part IV of the Constitution  provide guidelines that the State may use when passing legislation. Significant among these are the provisions of Articles 38 and 39 of the Constitution, which oblige the State to work to advance equality and promote the welfare of the people, as well as to ensure, among other things, that ownership and control of material resources are distributed for the benefit of all, and that the economic system is run in a way that prevents the concentration of wealth and production resources to the detriment of all, etc.
The Indian judicial system has also taken proactive steps to recognise the suffering of those who are homeless and to offer some relief to them.
In one such case, the Supreme Court decided that “The State owes to the homeless individuals to ensure at least minimum shelter as part of the State obligation under Article 21” although noting that the right to shelter was incorporated within the right to life under Article 21 of the Constituting. As a result, the Court ordered various States to, among other things, identify and mark the structures for conversion into night shelters, conduct joint inspections of the existing night shelters and submit reports on such inspections, etc. Similar to this, the Court reaffirmed in Ashwani Kumar v. Union of India that the right to shelter constituted a significant constitutional right and that it needed to be made available to everyone and to the greatest extent practicable.
The court ruled in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) 3 SCC 545 that the right to life encompassed the right to subsistence. The petitioners argued that because they would lose their means of subsistence if they were forced out of their slum and pavement homes, their eviction would amount to a deprivation of life and would therefore be unlawful. However, the Court was not willing to go that far. It denied that contention, saying:
“No one has the right to make use of the public property for a private purpose without requisite authorization and, therefore, it is erroneous to contend that pavement dwellers have the right to encroach upon pavements by constructing dwellings thereon . . . If a person puts up a dwelling on the pavement, whatever may be the economic compulsions behind such an act, his use of the pavement would become unauthorized”.
As per the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in W.P. (C) No. 55 of 2003 with W.P. (C) 572 of 2003 in the matter of E.R. Kumar & ANR Vs. Union of India & Ors. The Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana – National Urban Livelihoods Mission has a component called “Shelter for Urban Homeless (SUH)” that the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation has recommended all States/UTs to implement effectively. According to data from the States/UTs, a total of 770 shelters had been approved by 20 States/UTs as of February 29, 2016. Out of them, 270 shelters are now in use, and the remaining ones are in various stages of construction.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to live in dignity, is a document that India is a signatory to as well. This clause is broken when there is no comprehensive law.
The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 and other laws solely address state-level problems. Additionally, these regulations take a “one size fits all” approach to issues like homelessness and begging. We can see from cases like Ram Lakhan v. State that the law is prejudicial to the poor and homeless.
SOLUTION FOR HOMELESSNESS
- The issue of homelessness is complicated and pervasive. Homelessness must be eliminated through a variety of preventative and intervention measures. Targeting those who are likely to be abused, disregarded, or at risk of homelessness is a crucial part of the preventative process. The already homeless population is the main target of the intervention activities. Implementing preventive and intervention strategies can be aided by system-based responses such as offering MGNREGA, Aadhar cards, and ration cards.
- It is essential to provide accessible shelters with high-calibre amenities. Sanitation facilities must also be provided.
- Regularly conduct medical examinations. Deliver weekly care packages to the less fortunate.
- Quality instruction and training must be given to homeless people so they can support themselves. It is crucial to increase the resources accessible to the homeless. Better access to healthcare and educational resources can help the underprivileged find work they can be happy doing.
- Unbiased employment opportunities can make a big difference. In fact, this may be the only thing that enables the affected people to meet their fundamental necessities.
- Giving counselling and aid to homeless people who experience everyday abuse, violence, and harassment is another option.
A crucial metric of a nation’s prosperity and development is the standard of living for its citizens. Among the many issues, India’s faces are homelessness and poverty. People of all ages are affected by the terrible problem of homelessness. To end homelessness, it is crucial to practise prevention, and early intervention, provide enough nourishment and enact comprehensive legislation.
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