‘Oh think twice, it's another day
for you and me in paradise,’ sang Phil Collins in the memorable
song on the homeless people. I am sure many of us have seen such
people in our daily lives. Some of us may have pity on them,
others indifferent towards them, and some may have done acts of
mercy towards them.
Notwithstanding the facts, the truth is, homeless people are part
and parcel of every metropolitan city life. Any one who sleeps
without shelter on the streets, on railway platform, under
flyovers, in parks or in any place not meant for human habitation
and anyone who sleeps in night shelter are considered as homeless
The problem of homeless people is engulfing many metropolitan
cities of the world. They provide the ugly face of the glamorous
side of these supposedly beautiful cities. In India too all the
mega cities Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai the problem of
homeless people are growing many fold.
The moral dilemma in handling the problems of homeless people is
whether to absorb them in the bosom of the city or push them out
of the city limits. It’s a call of the conscience and it’s a
difficult call that remains unresolved.
There are many government schemes to address the problems of the
street people and some non governmental organization too are
chipping in their efforts to improve their lot.
It is with these objectives, some Chennai based Non Governmental
Organization has started two community based programmes for the
welfare of homeless people in this southern metropolis of India.
One is the legal aid training programme, other is career guidance
The NGOs also offers special program for 0-5 age group, the most
vulnerable group among the entire street population.
There are 40,533 homeless people in the Chennai city, comprising
11,000 families. Out of them, 9,298 people live together on the
streets under the open sky. Many of them have been homeless for
more than three generations.
In Zone II, V, VI and VII of Chennai Municipal Corporation, 57
percent of homeless people are concentrated. This is because these
zones predominantly accommodate unorganized labour related to
wholesale business and other commercial activities. In zone VII
the homeless people are predominantly construction and daily wage
As part of the community capacity building activities, the NGOs
organizes legal aid training for the homeless community. The
homeless community is been trained on capacity building, skill
building, basic human rights and RTI provisions. It ensure the
homeless community in securing access to mainstream education,
health services, legal aid, affordable shelters and livelihoods
for all homeless people in the city.
Legal aid training provides information with regards to the
housing rights, women rights and legal measures for them to know
at the time of need. Legal Aid implies giving free legal services
to the poor and needy who cannot afford the services of a lawyer
for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding in any court,
tribunal or before an authority.
The Supreme Court has given guidelines that include food, identity
cards, protection for the most vulnerable groups among the
homeless, health, education, and livelihood, shelter and legal aid
for the homeless community in India.
The NGOs legal aid training programme for the homeless community
helps them to know their basic rights and the legal aid services
pertaining to the poor and the marginalized community in Chennai.
The NGO’s has started career guidance training program that help
young homeless generation to choose a career, gain competencies
required for it, make decisions, set goals and then take an action
which will improve their standard of living.
Of 40,533 homeless people in the Chennai, 21 percent are children
below 14 years of whom 48 percent are girls. The children aged
below 14 years form an extremely vulnerable group. They form 21
percent of the homeless population of Chennai.
About 85 percent of children below 14 years have never accessed to
school education. It is to be noted the drop out rate of children
of the ages 6-14 is 13 per cent, with the rate being higher among
The story of the children below 18 years is still grim. The
population of children between 15 and 18 years is 9 percent. The
male- female sex ratio in this age group is nearly equal. More
than 83 percent of the children do not have access to mainstream
There is a heavy decline in the number of children between the
ages of 15 to18 years enrolling for higher education. The drop out
rate has reached an alarming figure of 75 per cent.
The drop out rates among the homeless children is high especially
after their high school because of lack of knowledge and
opportunity on their higher education. Hence there is an increase
in the drop out rates when they are 15 and above.
Choosing a career is a difficult matter, in the best of times. Add
to this, opinions of friends and parents, and the young person is
caught up in a confusing situation where making a decision is
Career Guidance refers to programmes and services intended to
assist individuals of any age and at any point throughout their
lives, to make education, training and occupational choices and to
manage their careers. Choosing a career is a multi-step process.
It involves gathering information on a number of things, the first
The NGOs career guidance training program direct the homeless
children in the right path and to make right choices which will in
turn reduce the drop out rates, ensure higher education and choose
a better career for their life.
The most challenging of the problems of street children are those
faced by age group of 0-5 age as they are very vulnerable. There
are 3574 street children aged below 5 years forming 9 percent of
the population. They need physical, psychological, emotional,
social, and economic support. It is very difficult for the shelter
less people to provide this support to their children because they
themselves are denied of the same being confined in the streets.
The children between 0-5 are required to avail facilities like the
Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) that ensures the
nutrition, health and education needs. However, there is lack of
these facilities to the children in the streets. As they grow up
on the streets, they are exposed to multiple vulnerabilities
caused by health complications and under nourishment. As a result,
there is high amount of infant mortality among this segment of
population. The NGOs with their special programmes are trying to
address the issues of this vulnerable group.
Chennai is leading in addressing the issues of the population
living on the street. ‘Chennai Pavement Dwellers Federation’ is
formed to bring the homeless dwellers together and voice their
This attempt is to make people aware of their rights and get them
to utilize those government schemes available to them. The
federation also agitates for the right to shelter and changes in
governmental policy towards them.
The homeless people are at the bottom of the pyramid and are
engaged in menial jobs. They are migrants from rural areas, in
search of better economic opportunities.
The dilemma that the cities face today is; whether absorb the
migrants, as bonafide residents, and provide them with all the
facilities of urban life, or temporarily accommodated in the city
but encourage them to leave the urban space.
The problem if these people are given permanent shelters they will
settle down eventually leading to overcrowding of the city and
magnifying the problems of the urban habitat.
However, there is other fact of this issue as well. The migrant
who constitute the homeless people contribute to the city’s well
being as they perform various vital jobs and no city can run
It’s a chicken and egg kind of syndrome and it’s a difficult
choice to make. The fact is unless the rural habitats are made
conducive for habitation, migration to the cities may continue
The symptoms are glaring in the census figures of 2011. It reveals
that for the first time, the urban population in India is in
access to its rural population. Here lies the problems of homeless
people as its part of the emerging pattern in the country.
Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at