There are several misconceptions that society has concerning the homeless. Although only a few will be discussed here, they are numerous and widespread. They also severely hinder attempts to create a more productive discussion amongst the citizens themselves which in turn does not force the government into action. Firstly, many think that they are “uneducated, dirty and uncouth” and that that is the reason they are on the streets. However many have left their homes, families and communities to find work, or have escaped emotionally/physically abusive environments and often do not have any other choice. These are people who simply lacked the opportunity to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Another misconception is that they are simply too stubborn, or lack the common sense to understand that they should go to the custom built winter shelters.
The government has built 218 such shelters in Delhi alone, with the capacity of 17,000 people. On colder nights, officials, policemen and NGO workers forcefully push them into shelters; citizens are even encouraged to use an app to report the location of someone who is homeless to aid in this ‘rescue’ mission. As well-intended as this is, people have some genuine reasons for being reluctant: the shelters are unsanitary, giving residents fleas; sleeping next to strangers can be dangerous and stealing is more common; the storage belongings, of small stocks (that are sold in the day) and rickshaws are not allowed and untrained, poorly paid, unmotivated staff are extremely disrespectful. Places like Jama Masjid, Chandini Chowk and Yamuna Pushta had some relative safety in the numbers but these ‘rescue’ missions force them into dangerous alleys and parks. The missions and the shelters are definitely well-intended and signify some initiative from the government but they need to be more focussed towards the unique challenges that the homeless face. Finally, many citizens believe that those on the streets are criminals or in some way illegal. However most are ‘city-makers’ such as rickshaw pullers, vendors, rag pickers, security guards, daily wage labourers and domestic workers. Their low income often means that they cannot afford ‘affordable housing’ and some are even forced from slums.
Do they not belong to this world as much as we do? Are they not the children of the same God?