Extremely rich or incredibly poor: Shelter bridges the gap

Story and photos by Anthony Vence  |  Video by Danielle Manfredi  |  Photo Gallery

Interview with Riyasat Ali

Caretaker at the male’s shelter for the last three years. He has seen hundreds of men utilize the shelter and explains to us his experience over the years.

Q: How many people live in the shelter?

A: We can accommodate fifty-five to sixty people, but we try to fit seventy-five. We
have drunks and gamblers and all kinds of people who come here.

Q: How do so many people end up homeless?

A: The government gives these people houses, but they end up selling it for money
and setting up slums. Also, people from other states come to work for fifteen to
twenty days and stay in the shelter. They come to work, earn some money then go

Q: What is it like to live in the shelter?

A: There are drunks and drug addicts who are indifferent to their living conditions.
They relieve themselves where other people have to sleep and there is nothing we
can do but deal with the situation.

Q: Is it dangerous?

A: This area is a bit dangerous. Caretakers at the shelter are sometimes attacked. I
am a local so I am safe, otherwise I would have been injured by now. The addicts go
to any extent to acquire drugs.

Q: Do you get support from the police?

A: The police are quite helpful and arrive whenever we call them. They have regular
rounds in the area to ensure everything is running smooth.

As India grows into one of the world’s largest economies, millions of people are left behind. Two families from Delhi show the extremes in the lifestyles of India’s rich and poor.

India’s economy has the second highest growth rate in the world, only behind China. Despite that rapid growth, it is leaving individuals in the dirt, literally.

The Behl family lives in Noida, just outside of Delhi. (from left to right) Rajnish, Sarthi and Anu.

Forty-two percent of the nation lives below the international poverty line. The almost 500 million people who live in poverty in India outnumber the entire U.S. population.

Shefali, 25, is raising four children in Old Delhi. Because of scarcity of housing and limited income, it is difficult for families like Shefali’s to find a home in Delhi. For the past four months, Shefali’s family has lived in Shelter Home Jama Masjid.

“I’ve been living in the shelter ever since it started, and

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before that we used to live next to the railway tracks,” Shefali said.

When Shefali isn’t busy caring for her children, she works during the

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day by collecting waste materials, such as glass, and selling it for cash. She also works as a rickshaw driver at night to make extra income. Yet it’s still not enough to provide her family with their own home.

The Behl family, who lives in Noida, a suburb of Delhi, lives a contrasting lifestyle to Shefali’s and those living in the homeless shelters. Anu Behl is a mother of two sons, both whom grew up with a roof over their head, plenty of food to eat and a quality education.

India’s privileged hold almost all of the wealth in this nation of 1.2 billion. A fraction of the top one percent, only about 120,000 people, receive one third of the income.

Children pose for a photo outside Shelter Home Jama Masjid in Old Delhi.

Anu’s husband, Rajnish, has provided much of the family’s wealth. Rajnish owns a small business that specializes in importing machinery, then repairing and refurbishing the machinery before selling it to consumers for a profit.

Population increases in Indian cities, such as Delhi, partially account for the cities’ poverty rates, as poor families relocate from their villages to look for work. The main issue is that when they arrive in the city, there either isn’t housing available or the housing that is available is too pricey.

When the homeless sleeping in parking lots became a problem, a non-governmental organization stepped in. For the past four months, Shelter Home Jama Masjid Under Sur Nirman Educational & Cultural Society has been providing homeless shelters in Delhi.

Riyasat Ali, one of the caretakers, said the shelter sleeps about 60. His job is not only to provide housing for the homeless, but to also help people recover from drug and gambling addictions that may have led to, or further perpetuated, their homelessness.

About 65 homeless shelters like Shelter Home Jama Masjid are operating in Delhi. Many of them rely on support from NGO’s and the government. Ali said within the next couple of weeks, government officials are meeting with NGO members of Shelter Home Jama Masjid to determine whether to “make this project a permanent one.” “We are confident,” he said.

Many of the residents at Shelter Home Jama Masjid see the homes as an opportunity for a fresh start. It is a sign that as the economy continues to grow, in small ways, so will the lives of individuals.

Sources: www.unicef.org, www.cia.gov, www.economywatch.com, www.http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Category: Social Concerns and Environmental Issues