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Vaccination of homeless not in shelters a challenge

Activists say a clear plan is yet to emerge

As chances of getting vaccinated play hide and seek for many due to the fluctuating availability of vaccine stocks, for those without a roof over their heads, vaccination is a pipe dream.

Surveys to ascertain the number of homeless persons in the city conducted in 2018 and 2019 had pegged the number at 5,200 and around 4,200 respectively. With less than 5% of homeless in shelters, it is a huge challenge for the authorities to vaccinate them.

A majority of the homeless do not possess any sort of documents to establish either their identity or address. It was only recently that the Centre, taking cognizance of this issue, wrote to all States directing the governments to facilitate COVID-19 vaccination of residents of shelters for urban homeless persons, including those who do not possess any ID. The letter dated May 13, 2021, states that the homeless persons are one of the vulnerable sections of society and hence should be provided vaccine on priority. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have also been drawn up for the same.

Cases in the shelters

There are nine shelters for the homeless in the city, housing 204 persons currently. Over the past year, 24 persons staying in these shelters have tested positive for COVID-19, and two have succumbed to the virus.

According to information provided by the BBMP, 44% of the of the 204 inmates in the nine shelters had already been vaccinated.

BBMP’s Special Commissioner (Welfare) S.G. Raveendra said 82 had already been given the first dose of the vaccine, and eight had received both doses. “We are coordinating with the Department of Health and Family Welfare to ensure all the inmates are vaccinated,” he said.

‘No clarity in plan for homeless’

Narasimhappa T.V., member of the Supreme Court-appointed Independent Impartial Committee on urban homeless, pointed out the major challenge before the civic body is to vaccinate the homeless who are not in the shelters. “While the civic body has tested and vaccinated the inmates in shelters, there is no clarity on plan of action to cover the majority of the homeless who are still struggling on the streets,” he alleged.

City-based activist working for urban homeless, S.S. Rajani, said there still were hundreds of homeless persons, including nomadic families, waste pickers, daily wage workers and employees of small eateries near City Market, Kalasipalya, Sangolli Rayanna Railway Station, RMC Yeshwanthpur and other areas. She pointed out that the SOPs drawn up by the Centre state that the District Task Force should be constituted to identify such persons with the assistance of departments (Minority Affairs, Social Justice, Social Welfare). “There has been no planned action or coordination with the non-governmental organisations working on the ground for urban homeless here,” she alleged.

Impact India Consortium, an umbrella organisation of NGOs working for urban homeless, in association with Azim Premji Foundation, is working on “Namma Maney” project, under which IIC is collecting data on the homeless from 40 partner NGOs. The homeless will also be sent to the shelters, apart from helping them get some sort of government-recognised ID. “However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the application process for various IDs is greatly delayed, as all efforts are focused on COVID-19 management,” said Ramachandrappa H.T., ‘Namma Maney’ project manager.

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