No shelter from rains at this Churchgate children's home

Jun 18, 2013, 06:12 IST | Hassan M Kamal

Over 17 kids between 7 to 15 years huddle in a corner of the sprawling Night Shelter for Homeless Kids run by SPARC, an NGO, that has turned a blind eye to heavy seepage in the building

Seven year old Rohit was brought to the Night Shelter for Homeless Kids, Churchgate, with promises of security, food, care and education.

While all of those are being provided, the floors are flooded with water due to heavy seepage. As a result, he is forced to huddle with 17 other homeless children in a corner next to the kitchen.

The ground-plus-one storey shelter - run by the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) - is full of water since the rains began this month. According to the staff of the shelter home, many complains have been made to the NGO about the situation over the last one and a half years but to no avail. When MiD DAY visited the shelter on Sunday, children had gathered in a corner next to the kitchen on the ground floor, the only dry spot in the shelter.

“We told our bosses about the water seepage problem last year and this year as well but nobody seems to be bothered,” said Bhanumati Mishra, a
caretaker. After repeated complaints, sheets of plastic were put all over the shelter. However, the so-called protection became a nightmare last Saturday when the kids woke up in the middle of the night with rainwater falling on them.

“There are no beds or mattresses for the children. They all sleep on a carpet on the floor and now even that is wet. We don’t how where the kids are going to sleep tonight,” Mishra said on Sunday. At the mention of rainwater, all kids ranging from 7 years to 15 years began shouting in unison, describing how they saved themselves from it. “We were all out here. There was water everywhere,” said Rohit, pausing in between to breathe.

(From top) Kids huddle together in the only dry spot a corner on the ground floor near the kitchen; the first floor is slippery and wet due to continuous seepage; water accumulates and flows down continuously from the staircase; wires hang out of the electric main board, within easy reach of the children. Pics/Hassan M Kamal

Lack of manpower
Unfortunately, the seepage is not the only problem. The 4-member staff includes a cook and two female caretakers - Mishra (55) and Jubnisha Khan (53). One Sanjay Patil (24) visits the shelter home everyday. Both caretakers have shifted into the shelter for the monsoons. “I fear that if it rains heavily we won’t be able to come here. We can’t leave the children alone. So both of us have been staying here,” said Khan.

The two caretakers say that because of their old age, it’s difficult to protect the children when the floors get flooded. “It’s the most difficult in the night. We are too old to move the kids around in the night. As a result, most children end up getting wet,” said Mishra. There is no helper to do the daily chores either. The kids do most of the work including sweeping the floor, washing dishes and doing laundry.

According to Dr Jockin Arputham, founder and adviser to SPARC, the kids are made to do the work as part of a study to find out if homeless kids can sustain a shelter home on their own. “If that includes cleaning dishes and the floor, I don’t see any problem in that,” he said.

Danger all around
As if the wet and slippery floor wasn’t bad enough, the electric main board at the shelter home lies wide open, and is close to the floor - in direct reach of the kids. “We told our superiors to get the board fixed but there was no response. We are always afraid of a short circuit. Now that the shelter home is flooded, there is a risk of children being electrocuted,” said Patil. Adding to their woes, part of the roof on the first floor fell down on Saturday, missing a child by inches. “We have not turned on the fan since then, fearing another roof collapse,” Mishra said.

Breach of rules
SPARC has not signed the Memorandum of Understanding which every night shelter operating within the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) jurisdiction is expected to endorse. The MoU would make it compulsory for the NGO to provide ration cards, Aadhaar cards, beds, education and other facilities to the children.

Asked about the violation, Arputham said, “There are too many clauses in the memorandum that would make it difficult for us to run the home, and that too without receiving any funding from the state government.” Following MiD DAY’s visit, the NGO moved nine kids to its office in Byculla. Currently, the caretakers and the rest of the kids are at the shelter.

Story of the Shelter
Located under the bridge connecting the busy Queen’s Road to the Wankhede Stadium, the night shelter home was built by SPARC in 1993 with help from homeless children. It has been rented out to the NGO to provide shelter to homeless and street kids.

In May 2010, the Supreme Court directed all states to build one shelter home for every 1 lakh people in cities with population above five lakh. Mumbai was expected to have 120 shelters but. However, the city has failed to build a single one according to Homeless Collective - a forum fighting for the rights of the homeless in Mumbai. According to the group, the state lied to SC in an affidavit by naming NGO-run shelters for children as those for the homeless.

The other side
“We were caught by surprise,” said Dr Arputham, when asked if there was a financial crunch. “Money has never been a problem for the organisation. We are waiting for the rain to stop and then we will carry out the repairs,” he said. When Sheela Patel, a director of SPARC, was asked about the problem, she replied that because the shelter was under a bridge, leakages were very common. “Remember that for every leaky roof there are thousands without any roof, and all pavement dwellers get wet through the night,” she said. 

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