The shelter has been set up at the Central Government High School in Attakulangara for the last 40 days by the Corporation.

a relief camp for homeless by thiruvananthapuram corporation
news Human Interest Wednesday, May 06, 2020 - 12:10

60-year-old Vijayan, who used to work in a restaurant, has been sleeping on the verandah of a shop in Thampanoor, Thiruvananthapuram ever since he left home a decade ago following a quarrel with his wife. In the last week of March, as Kerala was upping the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the police asked him to immediately move to a nearby relief camp for the homeless. Despite his strong objections, he was left with no choice.

Sharavanan has criminal cases pending against him even as he battles addiction to alcohol and drugs. He sleeps at the Putharikandam ground along with a group of youngsters. They were also brought to the relief camp by the police soon after the coronavirus pandemic started spreading in Kerala.

Around 250 homeless people, living in and around Thampanoor bus stand, railway station and the Putharikandam ground, have been housed at a temporary relief home in Thiruvananthapuram. The shelter has been set up at the Central Government High School in Attakulangara for the last 40 days by the Corporation.

Like Vijayan and Sharavanan, many had to leave home under difficult circumstances. Their livelihood is largely dependent on doing manual labour in nearby establishments even as some battle addiction and others have taken to begging. A couple of police officers and Corporation staff were assigned to the shelter. Apart from them, a three-member group of volunteers from the Em Pallickal Oru Kai charitable trust were also present in the camp.

These challenging circumstances, however, prompted a kind act from those at the shelter. When normality resumes, students of the school in Attakulangara where the camp is set up would be in for a pleasant surprise. They now have a new garden, a pond with animal sculptures, new benches and desks, all built for them by the guests staying at their school.

Initial days

“It was a huge mess initially (to coordinate). There were a lot of issues as the homeless people at the shelter were not allowed to go out. Perhaps it was the first time they have been asked to stay inside a compound. The involvement of the police was crucial,” said Sanal from Em Pallickal Oru Kai.

“Slowly, things changed. We could convince them that we will be with them together. They started considering us as one among them. They started listening to us,” he added.

While initially, the NGO provided them with food, they started receiving food from the local community kitchen from April 2.

“When some of them stopped drinking alcohol, they were very hungry. They got enough food, which is another reason that calmed them,” Sanal said.

They were also provided with television sets by the Corporation.

Farming on campus

Soon, they befriended the volunteers as well as Corporation officials. “We started liking it here. We developed a bond with each other. We got a friendship circle, so we slowly started to enjoy life,” said Mohanan, a homeless man currently put up at the school.

To keep them occupied, the NGO and the Corporation encouraged them to engage in different activities. They started converting the school compound to a garden.

Sharavanan was able to display his artistic abilities after many years. He built a pond with models of wild animals inside the school compound. He perfectly carved a crocodile, a few pythons and a lion near the pond.

“Inspector General P Vijayan provided me with the raw materials to make them. Sanal and the other other volunteers also encouraged and helped me a lot. I was doing this after many years," he told TNM.

They created from scratch a vegetable garden, planted trees and cleaned the school premises.

Spinach, long beans, ladies finger and many other vegetables are now growing in the school.

“When we came here, the whole compound was a tiny forest. It was full of weeds everywhere. Everyday we spotted snakes here. Slowly, we took turns and cleaned the compound and planted vegetables provided to us by the Corporation. We also planted flowering shrubs,” shared Sasi, another temporary resident at the shelter.

Corporation jobs

Soon enough, they were roped into many projects by the Corporation. They helped the Corporation pack vegetable seeds for free distribution in the district.

60 of them were given a job by the Corporation to reclaim the waste dumping yard in Erumakuzhy.

The Corporation has planned bio-mining and bio-remediation methods to reclaim the unofficial dumping yard. “40 among them will be sent for work from the camp daily. 60 were selected and they take turns to work. They are very happy to work and earn,” Sanal said.

Many among the homeless are also good carpenters. This discovery materialised in the form of 50 desks and benches that they made for students of the school.

“Usually, when schools are converted to temporary relief camps, there are a lot of complaints that public property is destroyed and about the school becoming untidy. But in this case, they made the school more equipped and beautiful,” Sheeja, another volunteer, said.

Rehabilitation

For many of them, however, life after the pandemic ends will be difficult. The NGO is trying to rehabilitate them and Corporation has offered to help.

“Around 27 among them have a house to go back to. They were living on the streets due to some issues at home. So we have planned to talk to the family and arrange a return. There are 180 people here who don't have a place to go. There are aged people who need attention, which the Corporation will take care of,” Sanal said.

The NGO has offered to help Sharavanan and his friends establish an eatery to earn a living.

“We really look forward to working and earning. We hope we will have a better life in the future,” Sharavanan said.

Sanal said that there were people in the camp who earned Rs 1,000 a day by begging. “We will convince them to work and earn money and to live in better conditions,” he said.

 

Three different ways to become a TNM member - check them out now!.