In Mumbai and other Indian cities, new strategies for sheltering the poor are in play. Will the government be able to scale up efforts to meet a global deadline?
A new study1 estimates that implementing SDGs in India by 2030 will cost a whopping $14.4 billion U.S. And high growth and redistribution itself are also not enough to help meet this massive financing need. According to a 2014 United Nations report, despite high economic growth, in 2010, one-third of the world’s 1.2 billion extreme poor lived in India alone. Given these constraints, it is likely that private sector financing will need to play a role if the SDGs are to be achieved.
One thing is clear: If the SDGs are to succeed, India will need to be at the forefront. Helen Clark, an administrator with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has already said that India’s role in meeting the SDGs is “pivotal.” “Without India, the world cannot achieve the SDGs.”
All hope is not lost. Already, there are lessons that can be learned from Indian cities.
After the Supreme Court’s 2010 mandate, Chennai led the way with 15 initial shelters 2. By 2014, 28 shelters were in place with plans to develop 40 more in 2015. Singh says that what Chennai hasn’t accomplished in numbers, it has made up for in creative efforts. The shelters in the eastern seaside city have beds, a luxury others around the country lack, and integrate much-needed services, including health checks and nutritious meals.
The Tamil Nadu state government, which Chennai falls under, has also provided a budget to establish 200 Amma Unavagam, which means “Mother Restaurant” in Tamil. The community kitchens provide the urban poor — many of whom are homeless — with cheap, hygienic and nutritious meals at subsidized rates of Rs 1 for breakfast and Rs 5 for lunch. Every day, these kitchens feed 100,000 of Chennai’s daily wage laborers, migrants, unorganized workers and homeless residents. The kitchens not only act as health food sources but also provide employment for the 16 women in charge of each Amma Unavagam. Originally from slum-based self-help groups, these women now earn Rs 300 ($4.54 U.S.) a day, running and maintaining the popular restaurants. The heavily subsidized model is one that Delhi is considering replicating.
If Delhi does adopt the canteens, the move would build off other strides the city has made since the court order. Five years on, local authorities recognized that despite the creation of shelters around the city, many homeless weren’t availing of the new infrastructure. The shelters were predominantly male only, women only, or for children — not accessible to families who wanted to be together. This resulted in the city opening 30 new shelters for families. Unlike Mumbai, Delhi now has 34 family shelters, one unique shelter for lactating mothers and 257 general night shelters.
But as Mumbai takes its time learning from cities like Chennai, NGOs have begun to experiment with their own salvos. One promising interim solution is ekShelter, a tent made from weather-resistant, locally available materials. Developed by Delhi-based Micro Home Solutions City Lab (mHS City Lab), the tents have proven popular in that city. The idea for ekShelter was born when architects from the think tank mapped the movement of homeless Delhi residents, watching how they erected their temporary shelters and, eventually, identifying a design problem that they could address. The problem they tackled was the technical difficulties inherent in anchoring temporary structures on hard pavements,” says Swati Janu, an architect at mHS City Lab. As a result, “many of them sleep on pavements dangerously close to vehicles.” With its self-supporting structure and easy-to-assemble form, the tent is an attempt to solve that problem.