Housing is a basic human need, yet about one-quarter of the world’s population, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, live without shelter or in unhealthy and unacceptable conditions. There is no specific data on the number of homeless in India. The statistics are grim, but it is believed that lakhs of people in our cities live without a roof over their heads. And generally, they live a life of destitution, combined with hunger, intense social devaluation and extreme vulnerability.
Almost in every city in India, homeless citizens have remained more or less completely neglected by local and state governments. Over the past decades, governments have hardly provided to them even minimal essential services necessary for basic survival, such as shelters, to ensure that they do not have to sleep rough under the open sky. Hunger, deprivation and exclusion of homeless persons occur in almost every city of India. Unclaimed corpses, especially during peaks of winter and summer, bear silent testimony to the saga of homelessness and exclusion.
The Supreme Court of India has opined that living in the open, with no privacy or protection, is a gross denial of the fundamental right to a life with dignity. The apex court had also suggested that all cities with a population above 5 lacs should have one 24-hour and 365-days-a-year homeless shelter with a capacity of 100 persons for every one lac population. But the status of homeless shelters across the country is not yet up to mark. According to the National Report on the Status of Shelters for Urban Homeless by the Office of Commissioners of the Supreme Court, the directives are yet to be implemented fully.
“The number of permanent shelters is far less than needed, and allied services are virtually non-existent in the shelters for urban homeless. Majority of the shelters in cities are located far away from the areas where the poorest congregate – railway-stations, bus-depots, terminals, markets, wholesale mandis etc. Shelters are small and the capacity of shelters is way below the normative outlined by both the Supreme Court and later, the National Scheme of Shelter for Urban Homeless,” said the report.