In India, the Mental Health Act was passed on May 22, 1987. The law was described in its opening paragraph as “An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to the treatment and care of mentally ill persons, to make better provision with respect to their properly and affairs and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
However, when Paramjeet Kaur, the founder of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), did a survey in 2000, she found 53,765 homeless people on the streets of Delhi, of whom approximately half suffered from mental illness.
“Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA) originated as a citizens’ campaign to fight for the rights of the homeless people in India and make the State accountable towards their rights. At the time of its inception, there was no blue print available on this issue in the country. Therefore the journey was hard and filled with obstacles. The first few years were spent on spreading word about this issue, counting the people living /sleeping under the open sky,” says Paramjeet.
Paramjeet had been working for about 18 years with NGOs that worked for the underprivileged. One thing that bothered her during this time was the adult homelessness. The kids from the street were abandoned once they were adults and once again they would become homeless. The other major reasons for abandoning an adult by their family were mental illness and old age. Thus she decided to run her own NGO, which would focus only on these adult homeless people who are more vulnerable to mental disorders due to the mental trauma they had been through. She approached the college and school students who were interested in this social cause and surveyed the streets of Delhi for 15 nights.
This was the first-ever head count by any NGO of the homeless in the city.
The homeless are often one of the most vulnerable groups. They are often deprived of civic amenities such as water and sanitation; denied access to medical treatment; forced to work for below the minimum wage; face daily beating and harassment from the police; and are compelled to sleep in the open because of the lack of government shelters. Their human rights, including the right to shelter, the right to health and the right against exploitation are violated every single day
Once the data was ready AAA started working on two points:
» To mobilize and empower the homeless so that they are able to assert their rights and live with honour and dignity.
» To make the citizens and public institutions of Delhi recognize that the homeless have inalienable rights and that it is their responsibility to help the homeless live in dignity.
Since the start in 2000, AAA has initiated several programs to bring this mission into practice: providing shelters to the homeless people, reaching the homeless people by doing Night Out’s, providing basic health care through the Health Outreach Clinic and providing legal aid.
It has been working in collaboration with Delhi Government through Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) to manage shelters across Delhi. Round the year, it runs permanent shelters. During winter, it also runs additional temporary shelters in cabins, buildings or tents. These shelters are provided by the government. Currently, AAA runs 26 shelters in Delhi round the clock, which houses 3,015 people. Within the shelters, AAA offers them a clean place, a blanket to sleep, electricity, fresh drinking water, bathroom, water coolers during summer, first aid and a weekly doctor’s team visit with free medicines, system for admission to hospitals in case of emergency.
So far, AAA has managed over 12 million beds and delivered health care service to over 1 million people.
Every year during the winter season, AAA, in collaboration with Delhi government. makes efforts for the creation of additional shelters. All the shelters are managed by the trained homeless community workers. During this period, the entire focus is on saving these people from the chilling cold of the city.
Night-outs are planned to reach out to homeless people in their different concentration areas in Delhi twice a week – from 10 PM to 4 AM. It is done by a team of three trained employees of AAA, which drives through the streets of Delhi looking for homeless people. Night-outs help to address medical emergencies, intervene in cases of police atrocities, assist homeless people in seeking /accessing shelter and respond to immediate basic needs such as blankets and/or clothes in winter. Civil society volunteers, students and interns are always welcome to join this night action programme.
A clinic is organized specially for the mentally ill homeless people in the open at Meena Bazar, Urdu park andJama Masjid with the help of senior psychiatrists from Institute of Human Behavior and Allied Sciences (IHBAS).
Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA) helps in securing the presence of a Metropolitan Magistrate to pass appropriate order under the Mental Health Act 1987 for necessary treatment. AAA undertakes responsibility of bringing severely mentally ill patients from streets to the clinic for diagnosis and treatment. AAA has the responsibility of record keeping of the mentally ill homeless who come to the clinic so that their presence can be secured for subsequent clinics as required by the doctors. Support mechanisms (Food, Clothing, Hygiene items & Shelter) are also provided to these patients.
“By living constantly vulnerable lives, the homeless end up being people with low self-esteem, confidence and poor health. Our objective has been to mobilise, empower and strengthen homeless people so they can assert their rights to live with honour and dignity,” says Paramjeet.
Once the patient feels better, workshops, training sessions, including informal counselling sessions, are organized to support them to emerge out of difficult circumstances and live independently.
These homeless people are also helped in getting an identity proof and voter ID card.
Since the problem of homelessness is complex and gigantic in nature, this problem can’t be solved by AAA alone. Therefore AAA believes in networking with like-minded organizations, forums and Institutions. You can contact here to be a part of this great cause.