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The problem of homelessness across the world is acute and seems to be getting worse. Homelessness constitutes the worst violation of the human right to adequate housing, and homeless people, especially women, are among the most marginalized, ignored, and discriminated.

Homeless women, particularly young women, suffer the worst kinds of violence and insecurity, and are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking. Instances of rape, molestation, and women spending sleepless nights guarding their young adolescent girls are a common feature among homeless women. Accessing health care is a tremendous challenge for homeless people, especially women. The human rights of street children to security, adequate housing, education, development, and education, are continually violated. Apart from being malnourished, poverty-stricken and often abused, most street children are unable to attend school.
Homelessness in India

The Census of India 2011 defines 'houseless household' as, 'households who do not live in buildings or census houses but live in the open on roadside, pavements, in hume pipes, under flyovers and staircases, or in the open in places of worship, mandaps, railway platforms, etc.'.

According to the Census of 2011, India has more than 1.7 million homeless residents, of which 938,384 are located in urban areas. These figures, however, grossly underestimate the real numbers of the homeless. Civil society organizations estimate that at least one per cent of the population of urban India is homeless. Based on this, it can be extrapolated that the population of the urban homeless is at least 3 million. In the capital city of Delhi alone, at any given point, civil society estimates place the number of homeless at around 150,000 - 200,000, of which at least 10,000 are women. India also has the highest number of street children in the world but there is no official data on their numbers or adequate schemes to respond to their special needs and concerns.

Estimated Number of Homeless People in Different Cities across India

  • Delhi: 150,000 - 200,000
  • Chennai: 40,000 - 50,000
  • Mumbai: 200,000 (including Navi Mumbai)
  • Indore: 10,000 - 12,000
  • Vishakhapatnam: 18,000
  • Bangalore: 40,000 - 50,000
  • Hyderabad: 60,000
  • Ahmedabad: 100,000
  • Patna: 25,000
  • Kolkata: 150,000
  • Lucknow: 19,000

[ Source: Independent estimates from organizations working on homelessness ]

Inadequate State Response

The priority of the government should be to address the structural causes of homelessness and to ensure that all homeless people are eventually able to move into adequate and affordable permanent housing. A shelter is an immediate, emergency, and humanitarian requirement, and must be provided by the state on a priority basis to the entire homeless population. On a 'continuum of housing rights,' shelters are the first step, with the end goal being the provision of affordable and adequate housing for all. Homeless shelters provided by the government in all cities across India, however, are insufficient and inadequate; and in many cities such as Patna, are completely uninhabitable. The majority of shelters are ill-equipped, poorly located, and characterized by the lack of basic services such as drinking water, toilets and bathing facilities, electricity, clean bedding, storage space, and facilities for cooking / food distribution.

The National Urban Livelihoods Mission of the Government of India has developed a 'Scheme of Shelters for Urban Homeless' (NULM-SUH). The scheme proposes a standard of 50 square feet per person in a homeless shelter. In most cities, however, the homeless are provided only about 15 square feet per person in a shelter, which is not sufficient to live with dignity. The lack of adequate space also results in overcrowding and congestion, leading to adverse health impacts on shelter residents. There is also an acute shortage of shelters for women, families, women with children, working men, and shelters for people with special needs such as older persons, persons with disabilities, persons living with mental illness or HIV/AIDS, and chemically dependent persons.

While positive initiatives are being proposed at the national level and through progressive orders from the High Court of Delhi and the Supreme Court of India, the approach of the central and most state governments towards homelessness continues to be piece-meal and does not adopt the human rights framework.

HLRN has been working at different levels to ensure the incorporation of a human rights approach to dealing with the issue of homelessness across India. We were involved with the creation of, and continue to play an active role in the functioning of, a forum working on homelessness in Delhi - Shahri Adhikar Manch: Begharon Ke Saath (Urban Rights Forum: With the Homeless - SAM:BKS). The Forum consists of several organizations, including the homeless and their networks, and works on issues related to their human rights to adequate housing, food, health, work/livelihood, security, and political participation. SAM:BKS also works to establish the legal identity of the homeless - who continue to be disenfranchised and criminalized by the government.

Court Intervention on the Issue of Homelessness In India

High Court of Delhi

In January 2010, following the demolition of a temporary shelter by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi issued a suo moto notice against the Delhi government demanding an explanation for the demolition in the peak of winter, which resulted in the death of two homeless persons. SAM:BKS played an active role in providing support and information to the Court for the case, which was disposed in April 2015, after 100 hearings and several progressive orders.

See orders of the High Court of Delhi case (W.P. (C) 29/2010

Supreme Court of India

1) PUCL v. Union of India and Others (W. P. (C) 196/2001)

Through the intervention of special commissioners in 2010, the issue of homelessness was brought into the purview of the 'right to food' case in the Supreme Court of India. The Court ordered that shelters must be sufficient to meet the need of the homeless, in the ratio of at least one shelter per lakh (100,000) population, in every major urban centre. It also stated that shelters should be functional throughout the year and not as a seasonal facility only during the winters. Despite strong orders from the Supreme Court, the situation in most cities across India is abysmal with regard to provisions for the homeless.

Two reports submitted by the Commissioners pertain to the issue of homelessness. The Eighth National Report on Homelessness presents a comprehensive update regarding compliance by state governments in implementing orders of the Supreme Court to establish sufficient numbers of permanent homeless shelters, with essential services, in all major cities.

2) Deepan Bora and Ors. v. Union of India (W.P. (C) 572/2003)

A public interest litigation petition on homelessness filed in 2003 was finally taken up for hearing by the Supreme Court in 2013.

View order related to the central government scheme - Shelters for Urban Homeless

Vision Statement of Shahri Adhikar Manch: Begharon Ke Saath
HLRN Homeless Exchange Programme

Housing and Land Rights Network has initiated a homeless exchange programme that supports visits of homeless residents and leaders to different cities in order to understand different models of organization, negotiation, mobilisation, and strategy development. This is helping to build a stronger national movement on homelessness. Over the last three years, HLRN has supported exchange visits to Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Indore, and Hyderabad.

For more information, please write to: contact@hlrn.org.in

Press Releases on Homelessness in Delhi
News Reports on Homelessness in India
28 August 2017 - The Hindu
28 June 2017 - The Indian Express
20 May 2017 - The Hindu
20 May 2017 - The Times of India
24 April 2017 - The Times of India
25 February 2017 - The Indian Express
16 January 2017 - The Times of India
14 January 2017 - The Times of India
10 January 2017 - Thomson Reuters Foundation
09 January 2017 - The Times of India
04 January 2017 - The Statesman
23 December 2016 - The Times of India
19 December 2016 - The Times of India
12 December 2016 - The Indian Express
30 November 2016 - The Tribune
01 August 2016 - Hindustan Times
01 June 2016 - Deccan Chronicle
01 May 2016 - Hindustan Times
01 March 2016 - The Huffington Post
01 January 2016 - The Times of India
01 January 2016 - The Times of India
01 December 2015 - The Times of India
01 September 2015 - The New Indian Express
01 August 2015 - The Times of India
01 July 2015 - The Times of India
01 July 2015 - Deccan Herald
01 June 2015 - The Times of India
01 May 2015 - The Times of India
01 May 2015 - The Times of India
01 March 2013 - The Times of India
01 March 2011 - Mail & Guardian