Homelessness in India

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Homelessness is a major issue in India. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines 'homeless' as those who do not live in a regular residence due to lack of adequate housing, safety, and availability.[1] India defines 'homeless' as those who do not live in Census houses, but rather stay on pavements, roadsides, railway platforms, staircases, temples, streets, in pipes, or other open spaces.[1] There are 1.77 million homeless people in India, or 0.15% of the country's total population, according to the 2011 census consisting of single men, women, mothers, the elderly, and the disabled.[1][2] Furthermore, there is a high proportion of mentally ill and street children in the homeless population.[3] There are 18 million street children in India, the largest number of any country in the world, with 11 million being urban.[4][5] Finally, more than three million men and women are homeless in India's capital city of New Delhi; the same population in Canada would make up approximately 30 electoral districts.[citation needed] A family of four members has an average of five homeless generations in India.[1]

There is a shortage of 18.78 million houses in the country. Total number of houses has increased from 52.06 million to 78.48 million (as per 2011 census). However, the country still ranks as the 124th wealthiest country in the world as of 2003.[6] More than 90 million people in India make less than $1 USD per day, thus setting them below the global poverty threshold.[6] The ability of the Government of India to tackle urban homelessness and poverty may be affected in the future by both external and internal factors.[6] The number of people living in slums in India has more than doubled in the past two decades and now exceeds the entire population of Britain, the Indian Government has announced.[7] About 78 million people in India live in slums and tenements.[8] 17% of the world's slum dwellers reside in India.[6] Prior to the release of Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, Mumbai was a slum tourist destination for slumming where homeless people and slum dwellers alike could be openly viewed by tourists.[9]


Homelessness is in part a direct result of families migrating from rural to urban cities and urbanization.[10] Migration to urban areas can occur for a variety of reasons ranging from loss of land, need for sustainable employment, lack of clean water and other resources, and in some cases like the Bargi Dam Project, loss of all property and complete displacement.[11] Once reaching cities, homeless attempt to create shelters out of tin, cardboard, wood, and plastic.[1] Slums can provide an escape, yet individuals often cannot afford them.[1] Homeless individuals may experience abuse, maltreatment and lack of access to schools and healthcare.[5]

Some other problems leading to homelessness include: disability (either mental, physical, or both), lack of affordable housing (a basic apartment in India costs approximately $70 USD per month[12]), unemployment (either seasonal or through economic hardships), and changes in industry.[6]

Jobs involving heavy industry and manufacturing (that require only a high school level of education) are being replaced by service industry jobs (which may or may not require a higher level of education). Since university is less affordable for the average Indian than it is for the average North American or European citizen due to their lower per capita income level, more people in India are becoming unemployable for the jobs of the 21st century. The average per capita income for a citizen of India is barely more than $1,200 USD; compared to $54,510 USD in Canada and more than $64,800 USD in Switzerland.[13][14][15]

Street children[edit]

It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 street children in India.[16] According to UNICEF, street children can be broken up into four sections: at-risk children who live with family but work on the streets for income, children who primarily stay on the street but have some residence with family, children who spend most of their lives on the street and do not live with or contact family, and finally abandoned children who are on their own with no adult figures.[4] Children flee homes of poverty, violence, oppression and exploitation and eventually reside on the streets.[10]

Children are often privy to exploitation and physical and mental abuse due to familial stress, depression, and alcohol abuse.[5] When they run away from their families to find a better life, children face prostitution and physical labor.[17] Children as young as 6 sift through garbage seeking money to buy food. Furthermore, children live on the streets as a result of urbanization, poverty, unemployment, alcoholic families, death of parents, bad relationships with new parents, and drug use.[5] Street children often have bad performance and behavior issues in school and may eventually drop out, leading to low literacy.[5] They are stripped of their right to education and recreation.[6] This ties into a cycle perpetuating poverty and homelessness.

Street children have more physical and mental health issues than non-street children.[4] Assuming children will ask for bribes, hospitals abstain services, increase prices, or refuse them proper care.[4] These issues can cause street children to become depressed or antisocial with negative approaches to life.[5]

Street children suffer from multiple forms of abuse.[5] Most experience verbal and psychological abuse, some experience general abuse and neglect, fewer suffer from health abuse, and a small number from physical (including sexual) abuse.[5] Data shows that high levels of one type of abuse are correlated with high levels of another, with amount of abuse increasing with age and income.[5] Often, abuse comes from police or manipulative employers and occupations.[5] Additionally, studies show that boys are more abused than girls on the streets.[5] Finally, abuse can stem from children with hierarchy on the streets.[5] Members of a group help protect each other to survive. However, older member often abuse the younger children.[5]

Efforts to assist[edit]

Non-governmental services[edit]

Drop in centers have shown to help street children.[4] In capitals and large cities, NGOs are involved with these centers.[10] One such organization known as Salam Baalak Trust (SBT) has been operating in Delhi since 1989.[10] SBT runs four homeless shelters open 24 hours a day for around 220 children at a time. This organization has helped 3,500 street children.[10] SBT shelters offer free clothing, food, education, health and mental health services.[10] Thus, children can play without worrying about adult responsibilities such as acquiring food.[4] Furthermore, SBT shelters are safe and secure for children.[10] Centers provide support systems with non-judgmental staff and supervisors as well as opportunities for growth. As many children often do not get support from their parents, families or others on the streets, children seek trust in the staff and consider them to be family.[4] They learn good morals and habits, including reduced drug use and hygiene.[4] Additionally, they are taught how to utilize their skills to create a business.[10] Children at drop in centers believe they have more opportunities for success in the future.[4]

However, some children do not realize that they will have to adapt to non-street life in drop in centers. They get accustomed to the freedom on the streets, including drug use and playing with friends at their leisure.[4] If their families live on the streets, the streets become a normal home for them.[4] Some children also do not like the rules of the shelter. Thus, they chose against living in drop in centers.[4]

Governmental services[edit]

The Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) had a policy for the homeless known as Night Shelters for Urban Shelterless, applicable to urban areas in 1988 to 1989.[18] It gave 20,000 rupees a year to homeless shelters, 50% paid by the government, 50% paid by loans from HUDCO or sponsors. In 1992, the Ministry of Urban Development renamed it to Shelter and Sanitation Facilities for Footpath Dwellers in Urban Areas.[18] The department decided to maintain these shelters as dorm-like refuge for nights and social areas in the day. However, in 2005 it was discontinued as states lacked funding.[18]

The Government of India has formed new policies for affordable housing and shelters in urban areas in the past few decades. However, shelters provide a temporary solution as they are not permanent and do not replace the right to housing.[1] According to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court, a shelter is a covered space where homeless people can feel safe and secure, and is accessible by anyone.[18] It should provide protection from the environment, safety and security, a place to keep belongings, and a place to drink water and use sanitary bathrooms.[18] The government states that homeless shelters ideally be in localities where there are a lot of homeless people.[18] To improve infrastructures in slums, the Supreme court mandated a new mission known as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.[19] This stated that for cities of over 5 lakhs in population size, shelters must contain good water, toilets, baths, cooling, heating, ventilation, lights, emergency lights, fire safety, recreation spaces, TVs, first aid, shelter from mosquitoes and rodents, beds, kitchens and utensils, counseling, childcare facilities, and transport for emergencies.[20]

However, the 2010 report by Commissioners of the Supreme Court portrayed conditions in night time shelters as horrendous. According to the court, these shelters are barely an improvement from the streets.[1] The homeless population eligible cannot enjoy the shelters at night as that is their time of employment, thus defeating the purpose of the shelter.[1] Furthermore, the data collected from survey analysis of homeless shelters showed the following: the shelters are majority male consisting of wage workers, taxi and rickshaw drivers, and tourists. The lack of women in shelters suggests that either women don't find shelters helpful or that there is low tendency for families to seek shelters.[1] The shelters have inadequate bedding, water, bathrooms, tools, gas for cooking, rodent control, activity space and non-functional first aid. Additionally, there is bad lighting, ventilation, and fire safety. Women and children do not have their own shelters.[1] Thus, the bare minimum of government demands are not being met.[1]

In response to this report, the Supreme Court mandated there be one shelter to house 100 people in a population.[1] They declared that shelters must be run all day, every day of the year and consist of beds, bathrooms, water, healthcare and first aid services.[1] 62 cities participated in this.[1] Finally, in 2013 the Indian government started the National Urban Livelihood Mission program which mandated guidelines for states on how to create and utilize shelters.[20]

A growing concern[edit]

An increasing number of migrants looking for employment and better living standards are quickly joining India's homeless population.[21] Although non-governmental organisations are helping to relieve the homelessness crisis in India, these organisation are not enough to solve the entire problem.[6] Attempts at gentrifying India's problematic neighbourhoods is also bringing homelessness levels up.[22] Laws passed by the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai during the 1970s and the 1980s were held by the Indian Courts to be violations of people's right to life in addition to their right to a decent livelihood.[22] A landmark case in 1986, however, would result in the favour of the homeless masses of India.[22] The first decade of the 21st century would see 75,000 people kicked out of Sanjay Gandhi National Park with the government using a massive military force of helicopters and heavily armed police officers.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Goel, Geetika; Ghosh, Piyali; Ojha, Mohit Kumar; Shukla, Akanksha. "Urban homeless shelters in India: Miseries untold and promises unmet". Cities. 71: 88–96. doi:10.1016/j.cities.2017.07.006.
  2. ^ Jha, Somesh. "1.77 million people live without shelter, albeit the number decline over a decade". Business Standard. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  3. ^ Kelly, BrendanD (2016-12-01). "Mental health, mental illness, and human rights in India and elsewhere: What are we aiming for?". Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 58 (6). doi:10.4103/0019-5545.196822.
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  11. ^ Shah, Svati P. (2014-07-23). Street Corner Secrets. Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822376514.
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  13. ^ "Poverty at a Glance" (PDF). World Bank. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2010-11-18.
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  15. ^ "Household income and expenditure 2008". bfs.admin.ch. Retrieved 2010-08-23.
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  18. ^ a b c d e f Shelters for the urban homeless : a handbook for administrators and policymakers. Commissioners of the Supreme Court in the Case of Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001, (First ed.). Bangalore, Karnataka, India. ISBN 8192690717. OCLC 897871638.CS1 maint: others (link)
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  22. ^ a b c d "Urban planning in India at CityMayors.com". City Mayors. 2005-01-16. Retrieved 2011-11-15.