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The Coronavirus Pandemic / COVID-19

The public health crisis caused by COVID-19 has created an unprecedented situation across the world with states struggling to treat infected persons and contain the spread of the virus. As with every crisis, the already marginalized, excluded, and discriminated individuals, groups, and communities are most vulnerable and continue to suffer disproportionately from this pandemic and related state response, especially from lockdowns and resultant loss of livelihoods, income, food, and shelter.

In India, at least 4 million people living in homelessness in urban areas and over 70 million people living in 'informal settlements' are particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading this disease, as a result of their insufficient protection, inadequate living conditions, high population density, low levels of nutrition, and lack of access to adequate healthcare and basic services, especially water and sanitation.

Measures to contain the spread of the virus, including the state-imposed nationwide lockdown have further taken a huge toll on the country's informal sector workers, including homeless persons, migrant workers, and agricultural labourers, who were left unemployed overnight without housing and food.

Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) has concentrated its efforts towards assisting the most vulnerable and marginalized communities by:
  • Monitoring the living conditions of persons living in homelessness and inadequate housing;
  • Providing and facilitating the delivery of food and other essential items to those in need;
  • Engaging in sustained advocacy with the central and state governments;
  • Proposing emergency and long-term relief measures and interventions based on a human rights framework;
  • Compiling information on positive relief measures and state policies for marginalized communities, especially homeless people and stranded migrant workers; and,
  • Disseminating important information regarding impacts of the crisis on India's vulnerable groups.

Even though adequate housing has been recognized globally as the frontline defence against the pandemic, in India it is not being accorded the importance it requires. Despite the pandemic-induced public health emergency and economic crisis, central and state government authorities have continued to demolish homes and forcibly evict low-income communities across rural and urban India. This defies the union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's directive to 'stay at home' as the best means of prevention against the coronavirus. The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Adequate Housing have also urged states to impose moratoriums on evictions during the pandemic, as losing one's home at this time is a potential 'death sentence.'  Housing and Land Rights Network has been working, at multiple levels, to advocate for the protection and fulfillment of everyone's human right to adequate housing, which includes protection from forced eviction and freedom from homelessness.

In all our work and interventions, HLRN is advocating for a strong human rights approach to all COVID-19 related response and recovery measures.
HLRN Relief Work

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdown in India, HLRN has been assisting homeless persons and those living without adequate housing, including stranded migrant workers, in various ways. During the lockdown, we also undertook direct relief efforts, including facilitating the provision of shelter, food, and other essential commodities.

With the enforcement of the long nationwide lockdown and sealing of containment zones to prevent the spread of the virus, people living in homelessness and in inadequate settlements, especially those dependent on daily wages, lost their livelihoods. Even after easing of the lockdown restrictions, many people working in the informal sector are struggling for livelihood. As a result, hunger has been a major challenge for these marginalized communities who have become even more vulnerable. The lack of access to adequate and clean water, sanitation, soap, sanitizer, and masks also increases their vulnerability to the virus. Moreover, many migrant workers and homeless persons living on the streets were forced to move to emergency shelters, all of which were not necessarily adequate.

Through its team and partners' network, HLRN is closely monitoring the situation of marginalized communities, including their access to food, housing/shelter, healthcare, water, sanitation, soap, sanitizers, and masks as well as other issues affecting them. Particularly in Delhi, HLRN is documenting living conditions in permanent and emergency shelters as well as low-income settlements. We are also facilitating the provision of adequate shelter to homeless person living on the streets and to migrant workers stranded in the cities. Demands of affected communities are being regularly conveyed to the government and through our advocacy, we have been able to improve access to basic services, shelter, food, and other essential items for a large number of people living in destitution.

From 25 March to 31 July 2020, in collaboration with partners and voluntary organizations, HLRN helped facilitate the provision of food and other essential commodities to communities in need in Delhi, Bhubaneswar (in partnership with Centre for the Sustainable Use of Social and Natural Resources), Imphal (in partnership with Centre for Research and Advocacy Manipur), Chennai, and Madurai (in partnership with the Information and Resource Centre for Deprived Urban Communities). During this period, HLRN helped provide ration/cooked food to over 110,000 people.

From May to July 2020, we ran a community kitchen  in Mori Gate, Delhi to provide free tea, breakfast, lunch, and dinner to homeless persons living in and around the area. Through this kitchen, we served 37,022 meals. In April and May 2020, we ran a community kitchen in Yamuna Khadar to provide free lunch and dinner to 1,500 families in need.

During the second wave of the pandemic and related lockdowns in April and May 2021, HLRN provide emergency relief and assistance, including in the form of dry ration, cooked meals, and masks to over 3,000 families in Delhi. 

From 1 July to 31 August, with help from donors, we again ran the community kitchen in Mori Gate, Delhi to provide free tea, breakfast, lunch, and dinner to homeless persons and migrant workers living in and around the area. Through this kitchen, we reached out to over 19,600 people. We also provided ration kits to residents of ten Gadia Lohar settlements in Delhi, which benefitted over 1,775 people.

As a direct result of HLRN's sustained advocacy, the Delhi government has agreed to provide free meals in all homeless shelters indefinitely. It has also agreed to vaccinate persons living in homelessness even if they do not have the requisite identification documents.