Chilly winter nights in Delhi should be a little bearable for about 125 homeless families in the city this year, as they will have some shelter to call their own. All thanks to one organization that has been distributing tents among the homeless.
“Many people tell us that we are promoting homelessness. But we are not. We don’t say that the homeless should be living on the streets. First of all, they shouldn’t even be there. But while they are on the streets and are losing their lives because of different reasons, including the weather, can we not do something to protect them?” says Swati Janu, Senior Designer at Micro Home Solutions (mHS CITY LAB), a social enterprise working for the homeless in India.
And so, keeping the larger problem in mind, the team at mHS went out in October last year to find a way of providing shelter to the homeless in Delhi.
“We have been working with the homeless since six years now. We had also designed shelters for them with the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board in 2010. But since then, the government hasn’t really been building more shelters…and the requirement has increased. So, instead of waiting for the government to take action, we thought of doing something on our own — something with a bottom up approach where we can work with people and enable communities to build shelters on their own,” adds Swati.
Thus began the 100 Shelter Project, with the aim of providing shelters to 100 families in Delhi. The team designed an easy-to-make tent that can be used as a temporary shelter at night. They began by distributing the tents in different parts of the city in August this year, and have distributed over 125 of them till now.
It is a crowd funded project, for which they raised money through donations in June this year.
mHS has created some very simple drawings, explaining how the tents are made, with a view to ensuring that the idea can be replicated by others who wish to help.
The tent-making process utilises three easily available materials – bamboo that is locally available, joints made of welded rebars (reinforcing bars) that can be fabricated by any local welder, and thick canvas that is used as the surface of the tents. The drawings are such that a welder will quickly understand the angles at which the attachments should be made, and the person responsible for bamboos can see how much length will be required.
The stitching has also been explained, and the team is trying to simplify the process for the next batch.
“This way, we can identify some local actors, and assign areas – like in X area, this welder and this tailor will be making the tents. We never planned on being the sole fabricators of these tents. The initiative needs to be taken up by the entire community, as well as some NGOs, who can then be responsible for distributing the tents,” says Swati.
mHS is an interdisciplinary group of designers, economists, policy makers, sociologists, etc., working towards the creation of socially inclusive cities. They design projects and services for construction in informal settlements across the country, and want to facilitate the process of self-construction in these communities. The organization is working towards improving the quality of informal housing. It was founded in 2009 by architect/urbanist Marco Ferrario and economist Rakhi Mehra. Being a very small team, they also partner with different NGOs to help with the ground work.
“Initially, we wanted to protect people from the cold, but then we thought, why not make something that can be used all year round? These tents can be useful in all kinds of weather, and they are waterproof too,” says Swati. But more than that, the tents provide a sense of psychological protection to the families.
The most positive feedback the team has received till now has been from women who say that they are happy about finally getting some privacy. They also feel safe once their children are safely tucked inside.
The tents have mosquito nets too.
“Do you know why homeless people mostly sleep close to the roads? It’s because every time a car passes by, the wind helps keep the mosquitoes away. But that is very dangerous. So the mosquito net is a very valuable addition to the tent,” adds Swati.
Another important feature of these tents is that they are self-supporting. So people face no problem when it comes to anchoring them on the pavements.
A tent can also be folded in just a few minutes — useful for people who live under flyovers or sleep besides roads, etc.
The idea of replicability is already picking up. Some organizations are getting in touch with mHS — like an NGO in Kolkata that distributes food to homeless people. They now want to make these tents in large numbers. For the 100 Shelters project, mHS is working with an NGO named Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS).
“We face many challenges within the communities. There are people who may or may not need the tents and if you give one to someone who does not need any, he/she might just go and sell it. So we ask the community itself to nominate who needs the tent most. They usually nominate families with women and kids.”
In some areas, like in Jhandewala where there are 30 such tents, police officials have been interrogating the people about the tents. The organization hopes that once awareness spreads, the police will also understand that the tents are meant to be used only at night and will not harass the homeless.
The areas where mHS has distributed these tents include Jhandewalan, Minto Road, the Kalibari Mandir area, Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, and Lodhi area. Members of IGSSS check with the people every week to see how the tents are being used.
For follow-up and feedback, mHS has created family cards with the details of all beneficiaries, their ages and pictures, etc.
The material for construction of the tents costs Rs. 1,200, but the entire cost, including production and transport, comes to about Rs. 2,000. The team is trying to bring down costs. Presently, the organization operates mostly on donations and grants.
According to a recent government report, 33,000 homeless people in Delhi died due to various reasons between January 2004 and October 2015. This winter, tents by mHS can save many lives, and hopefully the idea will be taken up and replicated all across the country.