The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines ‘homeless’ as those who do not live in a regular residence due to lack of adequate housing, safety, and availability.
Homelessness is defined as living in housing that is below the minimum standard or lacks secure tenure. However, the definition of homeless varies from country to country. People who are homeless are most often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure and adequate housing due to a lack of, or an unsteady income. Homelessness and poverty are interrelated.
The term homeless is broad, and while everyone has a different experience of being homeless. At its very core, being homeless is about absence: an absence of a home, safe place to live, security, choices and control over one’s life. It is also often an absence of family and friends.
According to the United Nations Economic and Social Council Statement the definition for homelessness is as follows: ‘When we are talking about housing, we are not just talking about four walls and a roof. The right to adequate housing is about security of tenure, affordability, access to services and cultural adequacy. It is about protection from forced eviction and displacement, fighting homelessness, poverty and exclusion.
India defines ‘homeless’ as those who do not live in Census houses, but rather stay on pavements, roadsides, railway platforms, staircases, temples, streets, in pipes, or other open spaces.
In 3 different ways, people can be categorized as homeless.
- Primary Homelessness: people living on the streets.
- Secondary Homelessness: people moving between temporary shelters, including houses of friends, family and emergency accommodation.
- Tertiary Homelessness: people living in private boarding houses without a private bathroom and/or security of tenure.
Some of the reasons and information about homelessness as documented by many reports and studies include:
- Domestic Violence
- Forced eviction: In many countries, people lose their homes by government orders to make way for newer upscale high-rise buildings, roadways, and other governmental needs.
- Foreclosures on landlords often lead to eviction of their tenants.
- Gentrification, the process where a neighbourhood becomes popular with wealthier people, and the poor residents are priced out
- Lack of accessible healthcare
- Lack of affordable housing
- Natural disaster
- Social isolation and marginalisation.
- Interpersonal problems
- Disability (Either mental, physical illness or both)
Some facts on the Homelessness in India and Worldwide:
- According to studies, 100 million people worldwide are literally homeless, and the number would surpass 100 million if all people who lack an adequate home with secure occupancy are included
- According to a 2005 study by the United Nations, an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide and as many as 1 billion people lacked adequate housing
- In India, the number of homeless people declined by about 66,000 households in rural areas, and went up by about 69,000 households in urban areas in 2013
- Rajasthan has the highest proportion of homeless
- Other states that has had the least success in reducing the proportion of homeless persons include Haryana and West Bengal
- Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh account for about half the country’s homeless population
- The lowest homeless proportion is found in Mizoram (about 0.01 percent) and Andaman (about 0.02 percent)
- According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), more than 90 percent of homeless women are victims of domestic violence which results in their escaping from their homes
- According to the NLCHP, the lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness
- Reports say that about 20 to 25 percent of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness.
Pervasive Homelessness across the country:
As of 2011, there were 1.77 million homeless people in India. There is a wide disparity between urban and rural areas; urban areas saw a growth of 36.78% in homelessness, whereas rural areas saw negative growth. Most government assistance is targeted towards rural areas. According to Mohammed Tarique, coordinator of Koshish, a TISS Field Action Project on Homelessness and Destitution, economic migration from rural to urban areas may be a contributing factor to this, as rural areas continue to lack basic infrastructure and employment opportunities, particularly in the secondary and tertiary sector.
Challenges faced by the Homeless:
- One challenge the homeless face is the inaccessibility to shelters.
- Camouflaged architecture and poor layouts of the interiors.
- Temporary shelters also run the risk of being demolished and often force the homeless to change location of stay.
- Exposure to extreme weather in summer and winter.
- Homeless people also suffer from bad health and extremely limited access to medical facilities.
- Lack of proper identity documents required by medical facilities, cost, and inclination of health care providers.
- In 2010, the UNDP India conducted a survey that found that only about 3% of the homeless people possessed a voter ID or ration card.
- No access to basic services: water, sanitation, power and waste management.