HUNGER KILLS! Middle-aged Homeless Man Found Dead in Sri Ram Bhavan Auto-rickshaw Park, near Wenlock Hospital in City-this death of a homeless man is a wake-up call for the officials of District administration, Mangaluru City Corporation, and other concerned government departments-that if they don’t act soon in taking care of the many migrants, homeless, beggars, and destitute -there could be many more DEATHS in the future! Instead, of CM Yediyurappa and his government spending Rs 66 crore on statue of Kempegowda, and our local MLA Vedavyas Kamath and the district admin spending nearly Rs 80 lakhs on protective fencing on Nethravati Bridge, the same money could be saved during this pandemic on providing shelter, food, medicine and other facilities to these homeless/destitute- and it will make sense!
Mangaluru: Several homeless still lie on the streets and under sheds in abandoned or under construction showrooms, seeking shelter from the COVID-19 sans any help they say from the district or the government. The homeless, mostly migrants, have nowhere to go and are even running out of supplies. Money is less, demands are more, income has been shut and the police does not let them go out. Many of these poor have been residing in the open for years, among whom are daily wage earners, whose income is not enough to support themselves. Several homeless still lie on the streets and under sheds in abandoned or under construction showrooms, seeking shelter from the COVID-19 sans any help they say from the district or the government. The homeless, mostly migrants, have nowhere to go and are even running out of supplies.
While people of administration, police and health department they claim have been by, teaching them to cover their mouths and maintain a distance of at least two-three meters between themselves, nobody has offered them any food yet. If you look around the City, hundreds are homeless, and with no money and no documents to help them access relief measures related to food, health, water, sanitation, shelter and livelihood, the homeless have become the most vulnerable to the immediate impact and aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis. Among destitute and beggars, most homeless people are domestic workers and daily-wage labourers. Even after the lockdown, they may not have a livelihood, and their lives will be much worse during monsoon. The water crisis is acute for the homeless and given the poor quality of food they consume, they are vulnerable to disease also.
In the meantime, it is even hard to figure out exactly who the homeless are and to unfold the status of various factors related to their lives – services, entitlements, government policies, access to shelter, violence and challenges specific to women. The problem is especially acute for homeless women who have malnutrition and various other diseases, mental health issues and risky pregnancies. With hospitals overburdened with Covid-19, the issue of accessibility is likely to be worse now. Then there is the question of access to food. “I have only been eating two chappathis or pooris since the lockdown began because that is all I can afford to buy” said Raju, a homeless hailing from Arasikere and stranded here in Mangaluru since a year.
Among the hundreds of homeless who go to bed hungry, here we have an example of a homeless man, who died due to hunger/malnutrition. This middle-aged homeless man was found dead in the Sri Rama Bhavan Auto-Rickshaw Park, opposite to Wenlock Hospital/University College, Mangaluru. The police who were informed about his death, were quite reluctant to go near the body with the fear of Covid-19 virus spreading. After an hour the ambulance arrived, and the ambulance driver did the needful in shifting the body to Wenlock hospital for autopsy. A auto-rickshaw driver speaking to Team Mangalorean said, “We rickshaw drivers used to feed whenever we saw the person, but due to all this lockdown he did suffer a lot, due to lack of food. His death is totally out of hunger, which led to his weakness and illness, and in the end, death”.
This death is an awakening call to the officials of District Administration and MCC, that just like this man who died of hunger, and negligence from the authorities, there are many such homeless people who are starving and could also face death the similar way, if quick action is not taken by the concerned soon. During COVID-19 lockdown period, migrant population and homeless population-related issues had become a major problem, and for few months, many NGO’s and social organizations provided food for thousands of migrants/homeless, but now with lack of funds such free service has been discontinued, and these poor folks are facing the brunt of it.
Sources reveal that the United Nations Human Rights Commission has proposed necessary measures to be provided during pandemic for homeless persons by providing them shelters; sufficient and functional community toilets; clean drinking water; adequate water and sanitation facilities for bathing; regular cleaning, clean and hygienic living spaces; providing food thrice daily etc- but unfortunately, nothing of that sort has been provided to these needy until now. And even though there is a separate fund allotted by the government to take care of the homeless, nothing has been utilized for such a cause, thereby leaving the poor and homeless in agony.
Why are the homeless ignored by all sections of the government and local administration? Is it because of their invisibility. Seems like Covid-19 has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of the urban homeless communities and there has been no specific intervention for the urban homeless because of their invisibility. Why can’t the authorities provide some kind of strategies which can help the homeless deal with the crisis being created by the pandemic and the lockdown? And not simply ignore and allow them to suffer. There are chances, many of these homeless with Covid-19 symptoms are quarantined on the streets. They should be shifted to government quarantine centres and equipped with facilities,before they spread the virus to other people.
Team Mangalorean spoke to few of these homeless people, and here are two tearful stories- Unsure of her age, a grey haired Pratima sits outside a shop, which she calls ‘home’. On days before the lockdown began, she would sell vegetables around the city, but has been rendered job-less since lockdown. The only earning person in the family of four including a mentally challenged son and two daughters, Pratima is scared what will the upcoming days bring upon her. As she holds her head in the palms of her hands, she sighs thinking back, “We used to own a house in Hosapete some years back. We had a life which derailed after my husband died and my son met with an accident. We had to sell off our home to provide compensation to four persons who were injured. Now we have been living here for almost five years. The lockdown has ruined our lives, and no one from the govt nor local administration is ready to help us”. With the thought of all three of her children going hungry, Pratima fears they will die of hunger before the virus gets to them.
Raju, who used to work as a daily wage labourer before the lockdown, blames the district authorities for not stepping up to help. He blames PM and CM and questions their ability to provide for the poor. “The govt claims to have started all these schemes which we only read about in the newspaper. Nobody has ever helped us in anyways. No authority has even come to check up on us since the lockdown. Nobody is bothered about us”, he says. While Raju’s per day income has been completely lost, and when two of his employers owe him a few weeks salary, they chase him away with threats. “They do not want to pay us. It’s the poor who keep this country running. But no one thinks we are worth anything” he says.
It should be noted that many of these homeless have always been victims of violence and harassment. The pandemic would impact them even more acutely. It should be noted, even prior to people needing food during lockdown, White Doves, a local NGO has been supplying food to the hungry on the streets since the past 23 years on a daily basis with a hot meal in the evening.Therefore when the initial lock-down was announced it was easy for White Doves to supply food to people in thousands. Even after the lifting of the lock-down 300-350 people were being provided food near Nehru Maidan, systematically and by maintaining social distancing. That place was ideal for food distribution, since whenever it rained these unfortunate brethren could move into the vacant bus stands right opposite and take shelter from the rains.
This NGO would go tho these bus stands and supply the food to the waiting hungry.This arrangement went on for a couple of weeks without any hassle but the moment a local TV Channel showed this relief work going on in Mangaluru, the very same day the police were at the food distribution spot near Nehru Maidan to drive these hapless people away. They were made to go to the inner road at the Mangalore Central Railway Station and wait for the food in the pouring heavy rain without any place to take shelter in. These poor did not even had clothes to change into. Thus it became very difficult for the White Doves to provide them with their daily meals.The only reason the destitute and the NGO were asked to move to a secluded place was so that the actual plight of these people and the actual number of such people on the streets was to be hidden from the sight of the general public.
Since this NGO was asked to move from main roads to inner narrow roads to supply food to the people, which was kind of hectic, and White Doves had no intention to stop the supply of food but were forced to since people were constantly pointing out about social distancing and didn’t wanted to get blamed for any community spread of COVID-19. Now that this NGO has stopped providing food, which for years had kept many of these homeless alive, it is time that district administration takes action soon to help these poor citizens of Mangaluru. Even though few citizens had brought this situation to the notice of the concerned authorities, but until now no action has been taken, and in the meantime, the homeless are starving day by day.
Due to this, the poor continue to be deprived of a hot meal and this NGO assures that if these people are housed properly in some place by the government wherein their health can be monitored on a daily basis, it is ready to restart the supply of food to these unfortunate citizens of Mangaluru, so that the less-fortunate won’t go hungry and face death..It would be nice if the government provides a suitable accommodation for these in a building, and also an NGO roped in to help out, would surely take the suffering and pain out of these poor.
Without any further delay, the government and district administration needs to provide more for the needy for successful implementation of the lockdown. No doubt, the government and authorities of various departments are facing challenges to protect the poor, but they can’t simply ignore them and allow them to die. The poor will be forced to defy the lockdown once they have no resources left to survive. In all, the lockdown will exacerbate the economic woes of the country.
The Govt and authorities need to urgently adopt measures to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people if COVID-19 containment and relief measures prove inadequate. The lockdown has already disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of livelihood and lack of food, shelter, health, and other basic needs. The government does have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of the population, but some of these steps have left many stranded, and homeless. The homeless people are in need of protection. Police actions to punish those violating orders have reportedly resulted in abuses against people in need.
Authorities should recognize that malnourishment and untreated illness will exacerbate problems and should ensure that the most marginalized don’t bear an unfair burden from lack of essential supplies and food. The concerned authorities should take urgent steps to provide shelters and community kitchens for those most at need, taking measures to ensure physical distancing. The government should not use Aadhaar (identity card)-based biometric authentication for the distribution of free food grains to the poor. Team Mangalorean makes a humble request to the concerned authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure that everyone has access to food and medical care, and that the poor and marginalized are not mistreated or stigmatized. The government’s responsibility to protect its people from the outbreak should not come at the cost of human rights violations.