Prevention of Homelessness: How is the Problem Treated Legally?
This Blog is written by Prerna Ganti from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad. Edited by Oshin Suryawanshi.
India is the second most populated country in the world, with a population of 1.3 billion. While it has a thriving economy and democratic government, it has struggled to keep population growth under control and preserve an equitable income distribution. Even today, more than 20% of our population lives below the poverty line. Due to their inability to earn a living, many in the country often do not have a roof over their head. Homelessness is a current problem that requires to be looked after thoroughly. A Homeless is a person who does not have a home to live in permanently due to various reasons such as unemployment, lack of affordability, availability and many more. Homelessness refers to the state of not having a permanent home to live in. According to the 2011 census, 1.77 million Indians were homeless, accounting for 0.15% of the country’s total population. Since India’s population has grown exponentially, many cities have run out of space to accommodate it. As a result, half of the population in India lives in slums, under the bridges, or accommodate themselves at any place where they can survive temporarily.
The main reasons for homelessness in India are as follows:
• Poverty: One of the primary reasons for homelessness in India is poverty. Poor people must choose between basic needs and housing, which consumes a significant portion of their income. In India, more than 5% of the population do not earn a living for affording basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter.
• Unemployment: The lack of jobs in India is another reason for homelessness. At present, in India, 23% of the population is unemployed. The main reason for this is that positions in heavy industries and manufacturing are being replaced by opportunities in the service sector, which may require more education. Hence, not having an income makes it difficult to find a proper place to live at.
• Housing: In India, we often find people migrating to urban areas from the rural areas for better employment opportunities, living, etc. Rents in the urban areas are often high, making it difficult for the poor to afford. Hence, they end up in places such as roadsides, below the bridge or any other place where they can seek refuge. They also live in slums to save their earnings as it is easy to find a place to stay or build houses with plastic, wood or cardboard.
Under international human rights law, everyone has the right to an acceptable quality of living, including sufficient housing. Therefore, it is a human right to have a home. Homelessness needs to be prevented in the country, and it can be done by providing homes to the poor who cannot afford one for free or at reasonable prices, by eradicating poverty and other ways. Effective preventive interventions are required. It should also be kept in mind that prevention cannot be done all at once. Hence, it is required to prevent at least partial homelessness in order to achieve it fully. Homelessness is a bad situation since it affects both individuals and society. It is particularly harmful to vulnerable groups such as children, the disabled, and women. Children will be affected by malnutrition, low birth weight, lack of schooling, and illiteracy leading to adverse health conditions. To prevent homelessness in the country, the government needs to target people who are prone to homelessness. For primary prevention, providing affordable housing, job opportunities, and eliminating discrimination are all viable options. A lack of affordable housing mainly causes homelessness. By offering employment opportunities for the homeless, it helps them become more self-sufficient and avoid social rejection. Better health and educational facilities can help them find better employment opportunities.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS DEVELOPMENT
It is essential to prevent homelessness in India. An increase in the number of people who are homeless is dangerous to oneself as well as society. Homelessness increases problems for an individual both mentally and physically. It may adverse one’s health condition as they do not have a place to look after themselves. Homelessness does not give an individual the privilege to avail the facilities in a society such as schooling, employment, etc. It puts women, children and disabled people in a more challenging position. Without a home, it is often difficult to have privacy and security. Women’s woes are exacerbated by a lack of privacy and security and a lack of sufficient food, housing, and sanitation system. They are often prone to sexual harassment as they do not have a protective space to live in permanently. The elders and disabled do not have the opportunity to proper health care and respect in society. Living in open areas without proper living space may give one respiratory disease due to the improper living conditions. Homelessness also increases the rate of crimes in the country as it drives the minds of individuals to commit crimes to survive in society. Youth are particularly at risk since they are more susceptible to dangerous addictions that can lead to health problems such as liver damage from excessive use of alcohol and other toxic drugs. Consumption of intoxicants as such also leads to violence between the homeless. Homelessness has a long-term, distressing influence on relationships and well-being. Hence, it is vital to eradicate homelessness and provide shelter to those who cannot afford it.
Various government and non-governmental organizations have come forward with policies to eradicate homelessness. In addition, lawmakers of the nation have imposed various provisions to bring justice to homeless people by giving them the right to have a home. The prevention of homelessness by building homes for the poor and those who cannot afford them made their lives much better and more manageable. The government and NGOs provide the poor homes for subsidized rents or at reasonable prices. By having a roof over their head permanently, the people who were once homeless now have a status in society. They also have the availability to access resources such as education, employment due to the rise in the standard of their living. Gradually their health improves, and they also have access to sanitized premises. Thus, it increases the possibilities of a person who was once homeless to participate in various aspects of life. Nevertheless, the prevention of homelessness also eradicates the problem of poverty in the country. It reduces the number of poor, gradually increasing the economy and GDP of the nation. Residents can gain the stability to arrange their lives and maintain their health by living in safe and permanent homes.
The nation has introduced various laws and enforced policies to eradicate homelessness in the nation. For the first time, India introduced initiatives for the underprivileged and homeless in the 8th Five-Year Plan. In this plan, the government implemented the Footpath Dwellers Night Shelter Scheme. The government acknowledged the right to a roof over one’s head as a fundamental right in the 11th Five-Year Plan. Homelessness has been recognized as a human rights infringement by the Indian Supreme Court in its interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which provides the right to life and personal liberty. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission was instituted by the Supreme Court to repair the infrastructure of slums. This scheme enhanced better living conditions, drinking water, sanitary and bathroom facilities. The Homeless Pavement Dwellers (Welfare) Bill, 2011, was introduced in the Raj Sabha, which defined the circumstances of the homeless. This bill led to the introduction of various welfare schemes and policies to provide better shelter to the homeless. The unfortunate circumstances of the shelters were disclosed by a Supreme Court commission in 2010. Furthermore, the survey revealed that these shelters have a dearth of women. As a result, the Supreme Court ordered that one shelter be built for women every hundred persons. The National Urban Livelihood Mission, which set rules for states to build and maintain shelters, was eventually implemented by the federal government in 2013. The government also ensured that the supply of necessities such as rice, lentils were provided under the Public Distribution System for the homeless. Article 14 and 19 guarantees equality before the law and freedom of movement, respectively. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana introduced by the central government declared to provide housing for all by 2022 under the Housing For All Act. Enforcement and strict implementation of such laws and policies may help prevent homelessness entirely and ensure the homeless have a roof over their head.
In Chameli Singh v. the State of U.P, the Apex court held that right to life encompasses the right to exist with human dignity and all that entails, including the essential requirements of life, such as adequate nutrition, clothes, shelter, facilities for expressing oneself in many forms, freedom of movement. Hence, the right to have a home was classified as a right under article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The Supreme Court addressed the issue of homelessness in PUCL v. Union of India and Others and directed that adequate shelters be provided for the underprivileged. Furthermore, in various judgements, the Delhi High Court has recognized the human rights breaches of homelessness.
In the landmark judgments of Sudama Singh and Others v. Government of Delhi and Anr. and PK Kopul v. Estate Officer and Anr. and Ors., the Indian High Courts addressed the subject of homelessness and upheld the right to appropriate housing.
In Ashwani Kumar v. the Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the right to shelter was recognized as a basic right under the constitution that should be made available to everyone to the greatest extent.
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION
Homelessness is a pervasive and challenging issue. Overcoming the problem of homelessness necessitates several preventative and intervention measures. People who are at risk of abuse, who are disregarded, and who are at risk of becoming homeless are targeted in the prevention phase. Government should implement promising laws and policies to provide housing to the poor and those who are in need. In the contemporary world, many people are homeless during this hour of the pandemic due to layoffs, unemployment, lack of affordability, etc. People are forced to evacuate as they are unable to pay rents at the asked period. Forced evictions have increased during this period of the pandemic, making many homeless. For primary prevention, providing affordable housing, job opportunities, and eliminating discrimination are all viable options. A lack of affordable housing mainly causes homelessness. Providing facilities such as education to the children on the streets, employment opportunities and access to resources help the poor survive and raise their living standards. Helping them by providing such necessities make them self reliant and self-sufficient. It also improves their health conditions as their premises are neat and clean and can avail the health sector’s services. However, the laws should be implemented strictly both at the state and national level. The poor are often promised housing but not completely availed of such necessities. Comprehensive laws should be enforced which prevent homelessness in the nation. Apart from housing, employment and free educational opportunities should also come into existence. Jobs in the sectors should be given to the people from the lower classes, too, as it helps them sustain a living. Everybody in the country should have the right to have a home. The nation’s growth is determined by the quality of life a citizen is living. Hence, for the growth and development of the country, major issues such as poverty and homelessness need to be eradicated. Homelessness is an issue that affects people of all age groups. Therefore, homelessness prevention, policy implementation, comprehensive laws and early eradication may eliminate homelessness for good.