How this Facebook group is rallying to help the homeless amid coronavirus crisis
The coronavirus pandemic has till now claimed 18,907 lives and infected 422,829 people across the world, according to Worldometers. In India, this figure is at 11 deaths and 562 cases. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 21-day lockdown may turn the tide, but new challenges are emerging every day.
Homelessness is a great problem in India, the second most populous country in the world. According to research by Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH), there are about 1.8 million homeless people in India.
This can become a huge problem amid the coronavirus pandemic as the population comprising beggars, homeless people, and daily wagers is at high risk of getting infected.
“The group most prone to coronavirus includes homeless people and migrant labourers, who commute from one place to another on a daily basis to make ends meet,” says Priya Sogani, owner of Akshat Drama Group and admin of Facebook page ‘Flat and Flatmates’.
Flat and Flatmates is a page created to tackle accommodation issues that bachelors face while trying to find a place to live in a new city. Starting with about 10 members, the group now has a network of communities active in 25 cities of India, with more than one lakh members across the country.
The 'no roof' problem
Through a live video on Facebook, Priya Sogani addressed the concerns of homeless people and how it was important for them to stay safe and isolated under a roof.
“At the moment, there are community halls and schools. Rain baseras, or community shelters provided by the government, are insufficient. People can be housed in these places for at least two to three days during the lockdown.”
She urged teachers, principals, hall owners, and others to provide these facilities for at least a short period of time.
Another growing concern is the fact that bachelors who stay in rented homes are now being forced to vacate. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stressed that citizens should stay indoors, house owners are trying to evict tenants during these stressful times.
“Our society has given us a legal notice stating that we need to vacate the place,” says a group member. “In times of such a crisis, shouldn’t we be providing shelter instead of taking it away?”
The Flat and Flatmates Solution
Flat and Flatmates has a plan to tackle these issues. It has approached municipal corporations and a number of housing societies for help besides initiating several other measures.
The Akshat Drama Group, in association with Flat and Flatmates, performed street plays in Gujarati at several locations in Ahmedabad. The play was about how coronavirus spreads, and the impact and consequences of the disease. It further shed light on how cleanliness and hygiene act as a barrier between a person and the illness.
This led the target group - factory workers, labourers, and the homeless, all of whom are people Below Poverty Line (BPL) - to ask questions about things like the cost of protective masks. The group also insisted on the importance of sanitisers.
Actors of Akshat Drama Group put up a street play to create awareness about coronavirus. .
Another initiative is the SOS community, a volunteer-based group with one vision – ‘HELP EACH OTHER, We are people living away from our homes’. It started by solving issues related to emergency stay and illegal eviction by landlords, who continue to hold tenants' deposit money.
With time and increasing number of volunteers, they have expanded to help those who do not have a roof or cannot afford one on their heads. Through their ‘T-Shirt Campaign’, SOS volunteers - advocates, PG owners, arbitrators - focused on the eviction issue that bachelors are facing.
Members of the community have come forward by opening their homes to people.
The T-shirt campaign to prevent eviction of bachelors from rented accommodation.
The team, as a backup, also has affiliated PG accommodation to provide temporary shelter with minimal charges in Ahmedabad, and is in talks with available PG stays in other cities. However, that is now becoming difficult during the lockdown.
An activist, Vishwas Bhamburkar, has urged the district collector through a PIL to provide hot, cooked meals to shelter inmates, homeless people, and beggars. The team is urging members and everyone else to help out.
Some of the group members have agreed to provide meals to a small section of people in the city as well.
The #staypositive movement hosted by the group addresses the issues of staying indoors. They have brought together entrepreneurs, artists, fitness trainers, and creative people, who will go live, interact and teach, entertain, and give tips to the affected people from March 26 to April 15, 2020.
Gujarat has reported 35 coronavirus positive cases so far, and is surveying about 27,000 people with recent travel history. It has sealed its borders with neighbouring states.
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)