“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 25, par. 1
Homelessness- What it is?
Homelessness is the condition and social category of people who lack housing, because they cannot afford, or are otherwise unable to maintain, a regular, safe, and adequate shelter.
Who are Homeless?
A homeless person is defined into three categories.
In general it is said about an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is
- a publicly supervised or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
- an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
- a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
Homelessness- The Fact
Housing is a basic human need, yet the statistics of United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2005 notes that, an estimated 100 million people -one-quarter of the world's population- live without shelter or in unhealthy and unacceptable conditions. Over 100 million people around the world have no shelter whatsoever. The health consequences of this level of homelessness are profound. The Action Aid in 2003 had found out that there were 78 million homeless people in India alone. CRY(Child Relief and You) in 2006 estimated that there are 11 million homeless children live on the street. The statistics are grim. What is worse is that very little is known of what it means to be part of such horrific numbers.
Homelessness in India
With a population of well over 1 billion people, India is the second most populous nation in the world. According to UN-HABITAT, India is home to 63% of all slum dwellers in South Asia. This amounts to 170 million people, 17% of the world’s slum dwellers. India's per capita income, although rising, rank's it 124th in the world. This low per capita income is one factor that marks the sharp divide between India's wealthiest and poorest citizens. Approximately 35 percent of India's 260 million people (a group almost equal to the entire population of the United States) still earns $1 or less a day. And according to the United Nations, 70 million people earn less than $2 a day. As India continues to grow in economic stature, there's much debate over the country's ability to tackle poverty and urban homelessness. A 2001 census reported that 78 million people across India were living without a home, many in overcrowded urban environments.
Factors Contributing to Homelessness
A wide array of factors contribute to homelessness, but they can be thought of as falling into one of two categories: structural problems and individual factors that increase vulnerability.
- Lack of affordable housing
- Changes in the industrial economy leading to unemployment
- Inadequate income supports
- the de-institutionalization of patients with mental health problems
- and the erosion of family and social support. Factors that increase an individual's vulnerability
- Physical or mental illness
- Substance abuse
- Domestic violence
- Job loss
Reducing homelessness will mean addressing issues such as these.
Since homelessness is a phrase in which a broad range of people and circumstances are concerned. Factors that contribute to homelessness are also broad. They include
- Poverty:- Homelessness and poverty are attached together. Poor people are not in a position to pay for housing, food, child care, health care, and education.
- Drug Addiction:- Data indicates that alcohol and drug abuse are excessively high among the homeless inhabitants. People who are poor and addicted are obviously at augmented risk of homelessness.
- War:- It causes unexpected homelessness. People who are in a good position suddenly loose their home due to battle among countries.
- Overcrowding and harassment by landlords.
- Unhealthy relationships between young people and their parents or guardians.
- Divorce:- Anyone in a family whether mother, father or child can become homeless due to separation. Single parents with dependent children are mostly at risk of homelessness.
- Natural disaster:- Cyclone, Tsunami and other calamities totally destroy the region. The homes are destroyed and families gets dislocated.
Who is a homeless child?
A person under age 18 who is living in a shelter, motel, vehicle, campground, on the street, in sub-standard housing, or doubled-up with friends and relatives due to a lack of housing. Runaway, throw-away teens and abandoned children are also considered homeless.
Impact of Homelessness on Children
According to a report published by the United Nations, there are 150 million children aged three to 18 years on our streets today—and their numbers are growing fast. 40% of the world's street children are homeless, the other 60% work on the street to support their families. The UNICEF, World Health Orgamisation (WHO) and several NGO's have got disputing figures in their account of street children. According to CRY(Child Relief and You) about 60 million Indian children under the age of 6 live below the poverty line. The problem has become particularly acute for homeless children, one-fifth of whom receive no education.
According to Indian Embassy figures, there are 314,700 children living on the streets of Bombay [Mumbai], Calcutta [Kolkata], Madras [Chennai], Kanpur, Bangalore and Hyderabad, and another 100,000 live in New Delhi; however, these numbers may not reflect the true picture, as accurate census information is difficult to collect. In truth, millions of India's children are denied even the most basic rights of survival and protection. Children living on the streets are especially vulnerable to victimization, exploitation, and the abuse of their civil and economic rights.
Reasons for Homelessness of Children
Children are abandoned, orphaned, or thrown out of their homes. They have no choice and finally end up on streets. It may be because of the mistreatment, neglect or that their homes do not or cannot provide them with even the basic necessities. Many children also work in the streets because their earnings are needed by their families. The reasons for these children's homelessness may be interlinked with social, economic, political, environmental causes or a combination of any of these. UNICEF defines street children as “children who work on the streets of urban areas, without reference to the time there or to the reasons for being there”.
In a 1993 report, WHO offered the following list of causes for this phenomenon called homelessness:
- Family breakdown
- Armed conflict
- Natural and man-made disasters
- Physical and sexual abuse
- Exploitation by adults
- Dislocation through migration
- Urbanization and overcrowding
Impact of homelessness/ runaways on children
Homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life — from conception to young adulthood. The experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral development of children. Difficulties faced by homeless children include depression, low self-esteem, lack of sleep and nutrition and feelings of shame and embarrassment. These children are exposed to the harsher realities of life.
Some of the challenges they face are listed below.
- Abuse:- Many of the street children who have run away from home because they were beaten or sexually abused. Tragically, their homelessness can lead to further abuse through exploitative child labor and prostitution. Street children are routinely detained illegally, beaten, tortured and sometimes killed by police in some countries.
- Child Labour:- A common job usually street children do is rag-picking, in which boys and girls as young as 6 years old sift through garbage in order to collect recyclable material. Rag-pickers can be seen alongside pigs and dogs searching through trash heaps on their hands and knees. Other common jobs are the collecting of firewood, tending to animals, street vending, dyeing, begging, prostitution and domestic labour. Children that work are not only subject to the strains and hazards of their labour but are also denied the education or training that could enable them to escape the poverty trap. Child labourers suffer from exhaustion, injury, exposure to dangerous chemicals in addition muscle and bone afflictions.
- Health:- Poor health is a chronic problem for street children. Half of all children in India are malnourished, but for street children the proportion is much higher. These children are not only underweight, but their growth has often been stunted; for example, it is very common to mistake a 12 year old for an 8 year old. Street children live and work amidst trash, animals and open sewers. Not only are they exposed and susceptible to disease, they are also unlikely to be vaccinated or receive medical treatment. Only two in three Indian children have been vaccinated against TB, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio and Measles; only one in ten against Hepatitis B. Most street children have not been vaccinated at all. They usually can not afford and do not trust, doctors or medicines.
- Addiction:- Many street children use a number of inhalants (glue, gasoline, lighter fluid) and illegal drugs (marijuana, cocaine and heroin).
Street children looses their rights to emotional, physical and social development, to survival, health and education, to play, cultural activities and recreation, to protection from cruelty and exploitation, to participation, freedom of expression, access to information, and to a role in public life and personal decisions. Returning these rights, through providing shelter, health, education and training for these children, should be focused rightly. Though there is an increasing number of programs being run by NGOs throughout India, these are not enough to address the problem as a whole.
The media both in national and international level are giving much attention to the street children in recent years. The 2009 Oscar Award nominated movie “Slumdog Millionaire” by Danny Boyle have drawn much attention to the life of homeless /street children in India. The efforts to increase awareness have led to several initiatives involving numerous groups working with street children, the launching of specific schemes and programs at the local, state and national level and the initiation of numerous studies on street children. A central scheme for the welfare of street children has recently been initiated by the Indian Government’s Ministry of Welfare, which gives funding to NGOs on programs related to street children.