Governments often address the problem of homelessness with band-aid solutions like placing the unsheltered in shelters, only to have them back on the streets after a short while. However, a newly developed project in Rajasthan, India, is striving to change these temporary fixes with a more holistic approach.
The new four-month program accommodates 100 homeless men with an interest in developing their skills and who have dependents. It was introduced by the Rajasthan Skill and Livelihood Development Corporation (RSLDC), but partners with employers who provide guaranteed jobs for the participants.
As part of the scheme, participants are provided with food and a room that is shared with only one other person, as well as 230 rupees (approximately $3.10) which is just a bit more than India’s minimum wage. These small earnings help the participants replace their financial insecurity with a budding sense of self-respect.
To begin with, they are given an assessment where the trainers can assess the existing skills of the men. Some may know how to cook while others have experience in construction or bookkeeping. The trainers then work with the men for four months to build upon the skillset they have.
The program doesn’t only focus on practical knowledge but also offers emotional support as they shift from a life on the streets to one of stability and employment. “We give them counseling, yoga, football, meditation, nutritious meals, clean beds, and a good sleep. On the first day, they get a shower, have their unkempt hair and beards trimmed, and clean clothes,” says Niraj K. Pawan, director of RSLDC.
Counseling is an integral part of the program, and without it, many men would fail to complete the program. “They need someone to take an interest in them, to talk to them about what brought them to the street and whether they really do want to work and support themselves. I call it a ‘mind wash’ that helps them see clearly,” Pawan adds.
Out of the first 100 men in the program, 40 are still in training while the remaining 60 now hold steady employment in various places including cafes, bakeries, and other trades. Their salaries are deposited into bank accounts that the RSLDC helped them open.
After going through the training program, participant Surendra found employment at Akshay Patra, an organization that provides food parcels and meals at schools across the country. “I feel more in control of my life now, more secure,” he says. “Before, I never used to know how each day was going to turn out. Since my work helps to feed hungry people, I try to do it well—I know what hunger is.”
The Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment hopes to launch pilot projects in ten cities but is still unsure whether these projects will be able to guarantee jobs.