shelter homes give a new leash of life to the city's homeless

Harsh Sanghavi

Jul 28, 2021

These swanky buildings that you see are not private property, built for the rich and the elite but are shelter homes for the urban homeless!

Article 21, of the Constitution of India, guarantees the right to life, which emphasises, the right to live a dignified life. Over the last 7 years, under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, several schemes for the welfare and the upliftment for the poor has been launched. From providing free food grains, electricity connection, cooking gas to health schemes, rural housing for all, these are just some of the programmes to help the underprivileged lead a dignified life. The structure of Indian economy is as unique as its culture and heritage. People from different states travel long distances, finally taking refuge in a city which provides them employment. The city of Surat, also adjudged ‘Best Smart City’ in the country, is also home to a large number of migrants and labourers. Many of them unable to afford a house, make streets and the pavements their own home.

The Surat Municipal Corporation, under the National Urban Livelihood Mission, has started an incredible initiative to built shelters for the urban homeless. The aim and the mission is to give pavement dwellers access to a safe shelter which they can call home. Currently, there are four such shelter homes in four different areas of the city. The capacity to accommodate varies in all of them. The capacity at the shelter home in Althan is 384, in Bhestan it’s 528, SMIMER (Umarwada) is 157 and in Rander the total accommodation capacity is 380. At present, the total capacity is 1449, and there are already plans in place to to increase such homes in the future.

The people who reside in the shelter homes are often the children who spend their day and night under the flyover pavement, women who are forced to live on the streets, having to search for a private space where they could change clothes and are forced to walk kilometres in search for a public restroom. Many of them are also pregnant women who are forced to live on the pavement without any safety and security.

One such case, is of Sangeeta ben, who was pregnant when she was brought into the shelter home. Her medical condition was not good when she and her family were rescued. After receiving proper care and treatment, she delivered a healthy baby at the shelter home.
Shelter homes are also places for those who have no place. Disabled people and ill patients who have no care-givers are extended the support and care in these homes. Shyam Rao Patil, aged 64, worried about his disabled son, Manish, aged 19, who is mentally and physically handicapped, got haven in the shelter home.

Another case in point is of, Mr. Saumabhai Vasava, a senior citizen, who was brought to the shelter home at SMIMER, after getting discharged from SMIMER Hospital. Post the treatment of his illness, he was unfit to return to work and had no place to stay. He was given refuse and cared for in the shelter home which helped him recover and return back to job within fifteen days. The rescue stories are not only built from roads, railways and flyovers, but also from awareness programmes, NGOs who knock the doors of the shelter homes for support. SMC and the Shelter Management Agency often reach out and disseminate information in institutions like the hospitals and police stations where there is a higher possibility of finding homeless and needy people.

The shelter also provides bunk beds, for the family’s basic needs, including two meals a day, proper sanitary and washing facilities with adequate water supply, access to a hospital nearby in case of medical emergencies, etc. There are also canteens of NGOs in some of these homes, which provide nutritious food at cheap rates. The shelter also conducts periodic skill development sessions in order to connect the inmates to meaningful livelihood opportunities, government benefits and social security schemes in a bid to help them become independent. The women inmates of the SMIMER shelter homes cooked ‘Rotis’ to support the NGOs who provided food every day during the lockdown period. Many times, several male inmates helped cook the meals too. Shelter homes are also dedicated to providing education, a fundamental right of all children. SMC in collaboration with U&I, a volunteer based charitable organisation, facilitates education to its inmates virtually. A total of 22 homeless children above the age of 10 attend online classes. Required gadgets like mobile, computer, and internet connectivity is also provided to support their studies. Stationary and other study material kit is also provided to children.

Several workshops are also conducted to teach them employable skills, so that they can earn money and learn to sustain themselves. Workshops on Paper Bag Making, Stone Stitching, Mask Masking, Diwali Lamp Decoration, etc. are held at the shelter homes in collaboration with several local NGOs. These activities not only give a boost to the local artisans, but also serve as a huge confidence booster. The shelter also connects the inmates to government benefits and social security schemes in a bid to help them become independent. From helping the inmates with voter registration, issuing voter ID, issuing Aadhar card, Ration card, etc. to assisting admission to government schools and public hospitals, the shelter homes lend a hand in the best possible capacity.
The success stories of the shelter homes are astounding and truly reflective of the incredible work they do. A mentally challenged person from Telangana, who was missing for 4 years was found in Surat, in one of the rescue operations. He was eventually brought to the SMIMER shelter, although it was difficult to communicate with his, as he didn’t understand Hindi or Gujarati. A local volunteer tried to strike a conversation with him in Telugu, which got him to open up. Social media was used to help him connect with his family, and ultimately his family arrived to take him back home.

Several physically challenged individuals are also given assistance. One such story is of a man from Bharuch, who arrived in Surat looking for employment. His one leg is amputated by Gangrene. The Parle Point bridge was his home. His life turned around when one auto rickshaw driver contacted a local NGO, and helped poured in. He was brought to Soham Circle Shelter home, which is his own home and was provided with a tricycle to travel comfortably. There are efforts to find him a dignified job.

These shelter home are a ray of hope for people who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnels. The story of Mr. Ansari is truly inspiring, who once struggled to make ends meet and battled with life every day without food and security for him and his family. After being rescued by the shelter management agency, he stayed at SMIMER model shelter for 11 months, where he secured a job, saved money to rent an apartment and moved out to live an independent self-sufficient life. It is indeed marvellous and remarkable to see how an individual can turn his life around when offered a little help and support. This unique project undertaken by the SMC is aimed at making individuals self-reliant and competent. At the same time, supporting those who require state support to live a life of dignity and self-worth.

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