Once, I heard about a homeless man living near my place that wanders the streets in a gauzy, mud-splattered banyan and pyjamas. So, one day I approached him to gave him some money. Seeing this, the homeless guy was shocked and amazed and told me in hindi “What! You can see me? How can you see me? I’m invisible!”. That statement caught me by surprise, and immediately I felt his pain, I found myself sobbing a little. Since then, I carefully observed him from a distance and the people passing him, and how they ignored him as if he didn’t exist…much like they do with a piece of trash on the sidewalk.
What people don’t know is that they have no land, jobs or family to fall back on. They beg on the streets all day in the scorching heat or the freezing rain and sleep there at night. They cook and defecate in the open space.
They have no choice. That is probably the story of almost every homeless person ever. Despite that, homeless people are often stigmatized as undeserving. People often believe that they are not destitute and instead call them professional beggars. What’s worse is that these homeless people have no safety measures in place. More often than not, they are sexually assaulted or robbed. It’s not like they have a place where they can lock up their stuff or hide. Living a homeless life in any part of the world is pathetic, but in a developing country like India, it is by far the worst.
But it’s not that people here are bad. The thing is that if we make eye contact, or engage in conversation, then we have to admit they exist and that we might have a basic human need to care. It’s so much easier to simply close our eyes and shield our hearts to their existence. I’m ashamed when I realize I’m doing it. But I really can feel their pain, and it is almost unbearable, but it’s just under the surface of my cool exterior.
So I asked myself, can we end homelessness? Is it even possible? This claim is often disputed by those who say some level of homelessness will always exist everywhere. Yet it does not mean that there will never be people in crisis who need emergency/temporary housing. There will continue to be people who must leave home because of family conflict and violence, eviction or other emergencies, as well as those who simply face challenges in making the transition to independent living. Thus there will always be a need for some form of emergency services.
There are some organizations I found that work towards providing these emergency services to the homeless in India, but these are not all of them. There are many more out there if you search. These are the ones I found interesting, so here they are!
Narayanan Krishnan was a bright, young, award-winning chef with a five-star hotel group, short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland. But a quick family visit home before heading to Europe changed everything.
Krishnan was visiting a temple in the south Indian city of Madurai in 2002 when he saw a homeless man under a bridge. The man was eating his own waste as food. He was literally shocked for a second. Haunted by the image, Krishnan quit his job within the week and returned home for good, convinced of his new destiny. He founded his nonprofit Akshaya Trust in 2003.
Now 29, he has served more than 1.2 million meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — to India’s homeless and destitute, mostly elderly people abandoned by their families and often abused. Krishnan said the name Akshaya is Sanskrit for “undecaying” or “imperishable,” and was chosen “to signify [that] human compassion should never decay or perish. … The spirit of helping others must prevail for ever.”
He seeks out the homeless under bridges and in the nooks and crannies between the city’s temples. The hot meals he delivers are simple, tasty vegetarian fare he personally prepares and packs. He now envisions a dormitory where he can provide shelter for the people he helps called Akshaya Home. But due to lack of funds, he is unable to complete his project. If you’re up for it, please visit his page and support his cause.
One woman named Shalini (name changed to protect identity) ran away from home in Solapur to escape abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. Another woman named Raziya (name changed to protect identity) from Mumbai ended her 17-year-long oppressive marriage to a man who restricted her from even going out of the house. These are two of the nearly 250 beneficiaries of the Urja Trust in Mumbai.
It is a non-government organisation that provides shelter to vulnerable women who are homeless or have run away due to domestic violence. They are housed in a shelter home when they come in but later shifted to group homes as soon as they start becoming financially independent. The women are victims of trafficking, prostitution and economic discrimination.
This organization was started by a woman named Deepali Vandana. Being a Dalit woman herself, she understands the courage needed to stand up against the rigid social codes that classify people along the lines of caste, religion and gender. And it is this frustration and the desire to do social good that led Deepali to establish a trust that takes care of women who are left to fend for themselves.
Since 2000, she has been working in the development sector and has interacted with countless victims who have suffered unfortunate circumstances. Through Urja’s restoration program, the women who come in destitute and helpless condition are ready to move out to live independently and with dignity in society. The program focuses on the education, skill enhancement and employment as well as the mental and physical well-being of the women.
While running the home is a struggle owing to limited funds and Deepali has to make several sacrifices in her personal life.
So if you’re looking to volunteer or partner with their organization and take some of the burden off her, do contact them on their Facebook page and support their cause – https://www.facebook.com/urjatrust/
Even on a regular working day, you will find young boys huddled over a fire between two tracks just beyond the platforms of New Delhi railway station. One of them is a grime-encrusted urchin wearing a filthy baseball cap. He had run away after his mother died and he could take no more beatings from his alcoholic father. He spends his days sleeping on the platform or in a waiting room, scrounging for food and earning some money scavenging plastic bottles for reselling.
This is one of the many of India’s “railway children”. They have fled poverty, violence and abuse or are simply seeking adventure, attracted by the bright lights of the big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.The minute the children arrive, they are exposed to the risk of physical abuse by older boys, sexual abuse by adults and gang rivalry. Girls are particularly vulnerable and are often taken off by traffickers with hours of landing. This is where Salaam Baalak Trust comes in to save the day.
The Trust was established in December, 1988 with the proceeds from the film Salaam Bombay – a film depicting the lives and vulnerabilities of street children directed by Mira Nair. The name Salaam Baalak Trust translates literally to a Trust which ‘salutes the child’. Saluting the indomitable spirit of street children without distinction of gender, religion or caste lies at the heart of our work. Girls and boys, under the age of 18 years, living and working on streets are welcomed at their centres. They provide them with care and attention, along with health, nutrition, education and vocational training so they can lead independent lives in the future.
Do visit their page and support their cause- http://www.salaambaalaktrust.com
Ending homelessness means doing things differently. When people come to depend on emergency services, they get their immediate needs met like food, water, clothing, shelter, etc. but their futures are still uncertain. So, hopefully there will be more causes like these that that emphasize prevention and/or interventions that leads to people having independent and beautiful lives. After all, everyone should have a beautiful life.
If you happen to know such NGOs taking up this wonderful cause, please do share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org