Being the capital, people from all corners of Odisha come to Bhubaneswar for various purposes. But not everyone get a place to spend a night or two in the city, not if one cannot afford. And then there are the homeless, poor and the destitute. Where do they go? How do they find a shelter? Many are seen resting at the railway station; by the pavements and premises of temples. These days, there are options available though, thanks to the night shelter homes established by the Odisha Government.
These homes have come as a boon not just for the homeless or destitute but also for those abandoned by family because of mental illness, physical handicap or old age.
One of the successful projects of the government, the night shelter home concept was started in the city in 2011 but did not work effectively. However, in December 2015, the project was reintroduced to rehabilitate the urban homeless. This time it succeeded with more than 1500 people availing the facility within a short period.
ABOUT THE CONCEPT
As per norms, only destitute people can stay in the shelter home that includes old persons, severely ill persons or those who have no alternative options to stay in the city, basically those who are homeless. And, there is a provision to provide them with food twice a day. However, for those, who do not meet the eligibility criteria but put up at the shelter home due to some personal problem, only dinner is provided that too when they pay 25% cost of that meal. The authorities collect it as ‘user fee’ for maintenance of the shelter home.
Abharani Choudhury, president of Patita Udhar Samiti, the agency in charge of the shelter homes in the city, tells MCL that there are more than 10,000 homeless people staying in and around Bhubaneswar. “While it is true that there are some anti-social elements in the homeless populace who are not eligible to put up at these shelter homes, the genuine ones have been truly benefited by this facility.”
“There is a van that is moving 24 X 7 across the city to locate the destitute and needy people. Sometimes we also get information from the local people. At times, we also provide counselling and medical treatment to people if required in addition to keeping them at the shelter home. Sometimes, we also find them a job. However, when anyone comes on their own to stay at the shelter home, we do ask them to furnish an identity proof,” adds Abharani.
Shelter homes in the capital have not only provided a welcome respite to the homeless, they have also come across as a blessing in disguise for those old persons who are being neglected by their families. 72-year-old A. Ramesh, a resident of Vishakhapatanam, whom we met at Mali Sahi shelter home had a very touching story to share. “There was a time when I was very happy, working in a private company and staying with my family, my wife, two daughters and a son. However, once my children got settled, they started ignoring me and I could see a change in behaviour. My wife also turned bitter and I decided to leave home,” he recalls, the sadness reflecting in his eyes.
Eight months back, he came to Bhubaneswar but his health condition deteriorated and he had no money. He started begging to earn some money and eat but the agency people found him in front of a temple and brought him to the shelter home. He was given continuous counselling and provided with medical help. Today, he has a home away from home and he is very happy about it.
Similarly, we came across Banita at Bhimpur shelter home who was rescued by the agency along with her three-year-old son, two months back. After her husband’s death, she had started working as a daily labourer to eke out a living. However, every time, she went to work, she used to leave her child under the shade of a tree on the roadside. Once back from work, the two used to spend the entire night on the roadside. However, today she is living a normal and secured life at the shelter home.
We also met 32-year-old Udaya Panda from Dhenkanal who had come to the capital in a very ill condition. “I was not keeping well and that is the reason I was not able to work. That irked my family and they did not even take me to the hospital for help. Frustrated, I left home and came to Bhubaneswar. But due to my ailing health, I got no work. But the agency people came to my rescue. Now, I am much better and also driving an auto and living like a family with others in the shelter home,” he tells us.
Even as the shelter homes have come to the rescue of needy and destitute people across the city, this project by BMC also has its share of challenges. As per rule, there should be one shelter home for 1 lakh population of the city but Bhubaneswar has only two shelter homes, which is not enough compared to the total population of the capital. Each shelter home can accommodate only 28 people and currently both the shelter homes in the city are packed with inmates. So, no new member can be added to any of the shelter homes.
The other issue is related to the infrastructure planning. Both the shelter homes are two-storied. While toilets have been constructed in the ground floor, the first floor has a male and female ward, both of which are of the same size. However, the number of male inmates is much more compared to the number of females, which is posing a problem.
The location of the shelter homes is another problem. While one of them is at Bhimpur, which gets too far from the main city, the other is in Unit III area, situated close to Malisahi (red light) area and that often poses a problem for the shelter home inmates. That apart, the shelter home also has sanitation and cleanliness issues.