Mohammad Rafiq has been residing at a bus stop on the Ameerpet Road next to the Telangana Chief Minister’s Office for the past two months. “I had visited Gandhi Hospital for treatment and was staying outside the hospital. There, someone stole my bag containing my mobile phone, ration card, aadhaar and my money. I have been on the streets ever since, trying to find a way back to my home,” he tells TNM. A native of Dharmavaram, Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, Rafiq lives with disabilities — he uses a trolley to move from one place to another, which also doubles up as a headrest he sleeps on.
Apart from the mobility issue, he also has speech impairment. “No one at home knows where I am for the past two months. The police said they will help me reach home after the lockdown,” he adds, unaware that the lockdown has been extended until May 30. Rafiq relies on the medical store opposite the bus stop for his medicines, but food is hard to come by most days. Barely 500 meters away under the Begumpet flyover, there are three night shelters — two for men who are between ages 18 and 60, and the third shelter for persons with disabilities. Unaware of the latter, Rafiq says he tried getting a bed at one of the other two shelter homes but was turned away.
(Mohammad Rafiq, lives at a busstop in Ameerpet a few meters away from a GHMC run shelter home)
These three are among the 20 shelter homes run by non-profits authorised by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) across Hyderabad for the urban homeless as well as migrant workers. In April this year, the GHMC told the Telangana High Court that 20 shelter homes were arranged for migrant workers to prevent their exodus, unlike last year. There are 965 beds across the 20 shelters of which only 265 beds are occupied, the GHMC commissioner had told the court.
The work to identify those in need of night shelters has been outsourced to non-profits. However, for the homeless, the information on the locations of these shelter homes is hard to come by. Neither the police nor those at the shelter provided any information on shelters for persons with disabilities like Rafiq. It appears that many of these shelters accept only those with a job or who are ‘physically fit’ or above the age of 60.
The non-profit Sree Education Society (SES) operates one such facility located next to the Country Club under the Begumpet flyover with 60 beds. Another non-profit, Amar Vedika, operates two shelter homes at the other end of the flyover which have 40 beds for the urban homeless and 20 for persons with disabilities. However, Rafiq would be unlikely to get a bed here too, because his disabilities may require assistance or attendants.
C Ramanjaneyulu, manager at Amar Vedika, argues that those with severe disabilities require assistance from caregivers, which their NGO does not have. “We will have a bit of a problem accepting those with major mobility issues,” said the manager, when Rafiq’s conditions were explained. “The persons with disabilities who stay with us, we provide them with food at their beds but these are people who can go to the toilet by themselves.” He adds, “There is also a risk of infections for such persons while using common toilets,” he adds. The manager said there are dedicated non-profits who see to the needs of persons with disabilities who are homeless.
Anaka Rao, the manager at SES says they were instructed by the GHMC to provide accommodation for only persons who are above the age of 60, physically fit and have a day job. Like Ramanjaneyulu, he also passes the buck to other NGOs. “We were instructed not to accept persons with disabilities. There are dedicated non-profits who will take care of persons with disabilities,” he says. “Not just us, none of the 20 GHMC shelters for the homeless take them in,” he adds.
Anaka says non-profits like his are stressed for funds during the pandemic and are not incentivised for doing fieldwork to identify more people who are homeless. “We are a non-profit and the only support we get from GHMC is the space, the beds, free water and electricity. We take care of the grocery and food needs of all those who stay here. There aren’t even funds for repairs. It's summer and we have only three of the seven fans working. Most of the lighting is also faulty,” he says.
(Thakur Balaji (Right) with the oldest inmate at the shelterhome, 73 year old Nageshwar Rao)
Former Army man Thakur Balaji from Goa has been residing at one shelter home since May first week. He was tipped off about the night shelter under the Begumpet flyover by a security guard. After coming to Hyderabad on the promise of a security guard job, Balaji found himself stuck when he realised that he had been duped. “It was a fraudulent offer and I lost Rs 17,000. I didn't get the accommodation that was promised. I didn't have the money to rent a place for myself. I do have relatives in Hyderabad but they were hesitant to host me due to the pandemic,” he adds. Balaji had to undergo a COVID-19 test before being admitted to the night shelter. “I like it here. The people are nice, the food is good. I can't imagine what I would have done if I hadn't known about this place,” he adds.
However, Rafiq has no choice but to survive at the bus stop. “The police know I stay here. They will come in five days to help me reach home,” he says, hopefully.
Vaishnavi Jayakumar of Disability Rights Alliance, India says, state governments have delegated the task of running shelters to non-profit. “Then put a whole bunch of government restrictions and make non-profits run around for basic repairs and reimbursements. Only passionate NGOs will put themselves through this, complying with Supreme Court ordered guidelines. But this flies in the face of the petitions that made shelter for urban homeless possible,” she explains.
Shelters for urban homeless started off to prevent deaths among the homeless during Delhi’s winters, says Vaishnavi. ”While the plan still has a very Delhi winter focus to it, the idea is that anyone who wants shelter gets it. They can walk into the neighbourhood facility for shelter from climate or for comfort or safety, and if they are lucky, food.” However, the situation is such that you have to go halfway across the city to a shelter that will take you in per your age, gender and disability, she adds.
One such non-profit for persons with disability who are homeless is Second Chance, run by Jasper in Hyderabad. "We accept people with severe disabilities too, but only if they are homeless with no family. We have mostly only bed-ridden people with us who are above 50 years of age. There are presently 130 persons and about 80 of them require assistance. We have about 25 people to assist them. We have about 70 beds that are vacant and we can take in more,” he adds.
When TNM told M Srinivasulu of Network of Persons with Disability Organisation (NPDO) about Rafiq, Srinivasulu said that help will be arranged. However, he lamented about the lack of awareness among the communities on available government services. “There are about 10 hostels run by the Department for Welfare of Disabled and Senior Citizens that persons with disabilities can access but many are unaware about them. The list of hostels and their location is available on the government website. It's in English and the links don't work. So, no one actually knows their locations. The main problem is the lack of awareness of services that are already available,” he adds.
Most homeless shelters are occupied by people from villages who can't afford a home in the city or want to save money on rent if single, Vaishani observes. Policy makers should devise means to raise awareness among target groups on identifying shelters and their locations, said Vaishnavi. “Consider having pictograms, colour combos for easy identification of these services. Like how people associate red bricks with police stations,” she suggests.