Poverty and homelessness is a prevalent social issue in India and the world. According to Habitat for humanity, one-quarter of the world’s population lives in conditions that are harmful for their safety and health. Many don’t have shelter, which is considered the most basic human need for survival.
This social issue also goes beyond the 25% of the people directly affected. Because of the shortage of shelter for this vulnerable population, there’s greater stress on government and social programs, including schools and healthcare systems.
Homelessness is an outcome of the complex interplay of structural factors, systemic failures and individual circumstances, all caused by a common factor- poverty.
There is a shortage of 18.78 million houses within the country. Total number of homes have increased from 52.06 million to 78.48 million as per 2011 census. The country still ranks as the 124th richest country in the world as of 2003. More than 90 million of the Indian population make less than US$1 per day, thus setting them below the worldwide poverty threshold. The ability of the Government of India to tackle urban homelessness and poverty could also be affected by both external and internal factors.
The arrival of the corona virus has made matters worse, with a high surge in poverty cases leading to a increase in homelessness. This crisis has amplified the already weak and falling economic growth over the last several quarters. Loss of income for the primary earner of the family means that his dependants too will be languishing without financial aid. Millions of families in different areas of the country are facing poverty.
A major cause for homelessness is migration (mostly from rural to urban areas). Some other problems leading to homelessness include disability, lack of affordable housing (a basic apartment in India costs approximately US$70 per month, unemployment (either seasonal or through long term economic hardships), and changes in industry. Abandoning of the old, mentally ill, unmarried pregnant women, helpless divorced women and girl children also are some of the main reasons of homelessness in India.
One challenge the homeless face is the unreachability of shelters. Although shelters are available for the homeless in certain cities, many homeless people choose not to live in them and live on the streets instead due to different reasons. One reason is that homeless individuals who are suffering from mobility issues cannot access them and are unsure about how shelters function. Another reason is that some shelters are located in inaccessible areas and have camouflaged architecture and poor formats of the interiors. Some shelters lack resources to make them more attractive for the homeless population. Shelters also demand a small fee per night, making them inaccessible for the homeless.
Indian NGOs have increased dramatically over the years for a variety of reasons. A few reasons include: programs developed by government owned organisations often lack sufficient financial means for implementation and the gap between social classes in urban areas.
An alternative strategy would be to focus on increasing jobs and wages, to increase productivity and create an active nation. Poverty is the biggest contributing factor, if there are accessible jobs, then people can fund their own accommodation instead of depending on unreliable government funded housing. Private and government companies need to invest in the development and infrastructure of the poor. Another strategy that could be tried on a trial basis is government boarding for children for a cleaner and healthier environment.