On a bench, under a tree… jobs gone in time of Covid, Mumbai hospitals their new home

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    On a bench, under a tree… jobs gone in time of Covid, Mumbai hospitals their new home

    Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala
    | Mumbai |

    November 21, 2020 4: 30: 52 am





    Laxmi Gangadhar Parate, 60, is a familiar face at BYL Nair Hospital. (Tabassum Barnagarwala)

    SINCE EARLY last month, when he visited Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General (LTMG) Hospital to treat a leg injury, Shakti Kumar has made a bench at the facility his home. Vishal Pawar and his mother have been living in a shed nearby for the last three months. Vijay Boite and his daughter stayed under a tree in KEM Hospital for three weeks.

    Meet Mumbai’s new homeless. They lost their livelihoods during the Covid lockdown and now seek shelter in the city’s hospitals, arriving for treatment and then quietly claiming corners in corridors and waiting areas, clinging on for survival, nowhere else to go.

    That’s how the green bench became his home, says Kumar. “I have never been homeless before. I used to work and stay at a restaurant in Virar, earning Rs 15,000 a month, sending most of it to my family in UP. Covid forced the restaurant owner to shut in March, leaving me and five other staffers jobless and homeless,” he says.

    “I met with an accident and was admitted for a week here.

    When they discharged me, I had nowhere to go,” he says. Kumar bathes in a public toilet, eats meals provided by NGOs or leftover food from the hospital. “Every day, I walk out looking for a job. I am ready to cook for Rs 3,000,” he says.

    Pawar was a security guard who stayed in a Kurla slum and worked as a part-time helper in LTMG. “When the lockdown began, I lost both jobs. The landlord asked us to leave and since then, we have been living in this shed. My mother visits the ward every afternoon where a nurse gives her leftover food,” he says.

    “These are people who were just above the poverty line before the lockdown began, and have now been pushed below,” says Mohammed Tarique, from NGO Koshish that works for the homeless.

    The 2011 Census pegged the number of homeless in Mumbai at just 57,415. Before the pandemic hit, a report commissioned by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation this year came up with an estimate of 11,915. “But according to us, Mumbai has at least 2 lakh homeless people. This count may have increased further during the lockdown,” says Brijesh Arya of NGO Homeless Collective.

    Shyam Tagade, principal secretary, Social Justice and Welfare Department, says there are no official records of those rendered homeless during the pandemic. “Police are responsible for bringing the homeless and destitute to our institutions. But since the police have been occupied with pandemic arrangements, they have not been able to do this,” says Shobha Shelar, Deputy Women and Child Development Officer, Mumbai, adding that the numbers of homeless “may have gone up” in the past few months.

    “The BMC will inquire if homeless people are taking shelter in any of the hospitals that the civic body runs. If they need treatment we will hospitalise them, if they are homeless we will take help from police and refer them to shelter homes,” says Suresh Kakani, Additional Municipal Commissioner.

    At LTMG, Dean Dr Mohan Joshi says he has “not noticed” such cases. But staff point out that the facility is close to Dharavi and Chembur, which are hubs of migrant labourers. “The number of homeless, unemployed men in the hospital waiting area, corridors and benches has increased. When there is excess food left in wards, I distribute it among them,” says Mohammed Shaikh, a ward boy. “We keep turning them away, but they return,” says Sunil Patil, a security guard.

    At BYL Nair Hospital, Laxmi Gangadhar Parate is a familiar face. The 60-year-old was an unofficial caretaker, charging “Rs 200-300 per day to change diapers, assist in taking patients to the bathroom”. “Since March, the hospital has stopped people like us. Now I am here to ask anyone who comes to give me work or take me to a shelter home,” she says.

    At the KEM Hospital, Dean Dr Hemant Deshmukh says there have been “cases in which a few homeless people tried to seek admission when their illness did not merit hospitalisation”.

    Boite, who lived under a tree at the hospital with his daughter, is one of them. “I have been out of regular work for seven months, and had to give up our rented home. My wife left me, leaving our two daughters in my care. I dropped one daughter at a friend’s house and took the other to the hospital. We stayed under a peepal tree. I thought if they admit me, my daughter can sleep on the floor,” he says.

    Every day, Boite tried to get admitted for “weakness and back pain”, says a doctor at the hospital. Finally, the hospital admitted him for six days, administered saline and discharged him. Boite moved back under the tree with his daughter before the guards asked them to move out. Today, the 40-year-old lives on the street outside his old home in Ulhasnagar with his daughters who have dropped out of school. He is still jobless.

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    (the headline, this story has not been published by Important India News staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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