To Understand Homelessness, Delhi NGO Calls on People to Spend a Night on the Street

Marham is holding a ‘Feel the Footpath’ initiative on October 8 to spread awareness about the problems faced by the homeless.

New Delhi: In the heap of umpteen ‘international days’ that are celebrated, it is easy to miss World Homeless Day. Although India is home to around 1.77 million homeless people, you will likely hardly come across news of any concern about the homeless on October 10. But one NGO is embarking on an interesting intervention.

In order to highlight the need for wider public engagement on the issue of homelessness on the occasion of World Homeless Day, Delhi-based NGO Marham has invited city residents to spend the night of October 8.

According to the organisers, “The real idea behind ‘Feel the Footpath’ event is not only to help people get a taste of life led by over 1.7 lakh homeless residents of the country’s capital city, but also to engage [them] in various issues linked to homelessness.”

Often, the homeless – particularly the children – are subjected to sexual abuse, forced labour and drug addiction, among many other ills. Even though the number of night shelters in the city has increased in the last few years, they are not enough to accommodate the large number of homeless people.

“The venue for the event is a footpath on Shaheed Marg on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg [near ITO]. We plan to meet there at 8 pm [and] everyone is welcome. Those willing to spend the night there will, however, not [have] any durries, carpets or mattresses to sleep on, only what the homeless use – old plastic sheets and sacks,” the vice president of Marham, Mohammad Naem told The Wire.

“Our stress will be more on the ‘feel’ part of it. How is it to be a homeless, how does it feel lying down on a footpath and watch the people and vehicles go by, how does it feel when stones constantly pinch your body parts while you lie down, how does it feel sleeping in the open with mosquitoes and other insects all around [and] how does it feel sleeping with the fear of getting abused or run over by cars,” he added.

Formed eight months ago, Marham began by working with 11 homeless youths living on the streets of Jama Masjid area. “They came from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Kashmir. While some came looking for petty jobs in the city, others just fled home because of various reasons. We rented a flat near Jama Masjid, moved them there and went about their rehabilitation in a systematic manner.”

“Each was imparted vocational training so that they could find jobs. Thanks to our efforts, four of them have established contact with their families,” he said.

According to Marham’s website, four stages of rehabilitation are followed after finding a homeless person: offering them food, shelter and medical facilities, followed by imparting them with vocational training according to their their abilities, finding employment for them, documenting their stories and placing them back into the society.

“Right now, the biggest challenge we face is [of] funds. Lack of adequate funds has restrained us from reaching out to more homeless people. We have been running on donations only from the members of the NGO,” Naem said.

According to the NGO’s office-bearers, some important people, including from the city government, “have shown a willingness to spend the night on the footpath on October 8”.

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