Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of a 21-day nationwide lockdown from March 23, the destitute have been the worst-hit. With most of the shops and hotels shut, the homeless in several parts of the country were left with no means of food or even water.
Furthermore, the migrant labourers, who were suddenly jobless, with no means to pay the rent, also took to the streets. With no work and money, many are stranded in various cities and are struggling for food.
While several relief measures have been announced by both the Centre and state governments, the country's poorest of the poor are excluded from the social welfare schemes. With no ration cards, many cannot avail the food supplies provided by the governments.
As starvation looms, the only source of respite for the destitute are individuals and NGOs, who are doing all they can to ensure that the homeless don't go hungry during these testing times. One such NGO, working in Erode district of Tamil Nadu, is Atchayam Trust, which has been rehabilitating beggars in Tamil Nadu.
"Because of the lockdown, the homeless couldn't even get water. As all the hotels in the area closed down, many people suffered from a shortage of water," says P Naveenkumar, founder of Atchayam trust, tells The Logical Indian.
Based out of Musiri, in Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu, the 26-year-old Naveen has been striving for a beggar-free India for the past seven odd years. Since the lockdown came into effect, every day, Naveen and his team have been distributing 400 food packets and bottled water to people living on the streets in Erode.
"The homeless include beggars, mentally ill, and the majority are daily wagers who work in factories or hotels. Due to the lockdown, most of the hotels and industries have closed and the sudden announcement meant that many people could not go to their native place. And now, there are no transport facilities available. So they had no option, but to take to the streets," explains Naveen.
In order to facilitate the food distribution and to give the homeless shelter during these testing times, Atchayam went one step further. On Friday, April 3, the team shifted 80 people to a government school. They are provided with breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, fruits, biscuits, and refreshments.
In addition, the team also gives them new clothes, towels, soap, and cleaning materials among other necessities.
"We provide a variety of food items like curd rice, lemon rice, tomato rice, and veg biriyani. For breakfast, the items vary from idli to upma. We will also be providing fruits, biscuits, and tea," says Naveen.
Naveen, who has always advocated the employment of the homeless, is also ensuring that those accommodated at the school do all the works inside the campus.
"They are not just staying idle here, they do all the work inside the school campus. They organise everything well. A few people have taken the leadership to entrust various duties. While someone takes up the role of the watchman, another is in charge of various cleaning works. Even providing food to everyone is managed by them," says Naveen.
Atchayam is supported by Vellalar College, Erode(Olirum Erode Foundation), Erode chapter of Young Indians, Rotary Club, and various individuals in procuring food materials and cooking the food.
Naveen also ensures that he and his team stays safe during the drive "We are taking all the safety measures. We use masks, gloves, sanitisers, etc," he says.
They also obtained permission from Erode District Collector, Superintend of Police, and Erode City Corporation for distributing the essentials. The corporation then provided the team with ID cards, which permits them to travel in the city.
Food shortage is a major challenge Naveen and his team are facing right now.
"Somedays if we do not have enough food, I inform my friends and family. They provide food and we distribute them. But, due to the lockdown, things are very difficult," says Naveen.
Atchayam Trust, that largely focuses on rehabilitating beggars, have rehabilitated 480 beggars so far. However, after the coronavirus outbreak, the organisation stopped the rehabilitation process to focus on providing food to the hungry.
An Assistant Professor at JKKN College of Engineering and Technology, Komarapalayam, Naveen juggles his full-time job and Atchayam. From the National Youth Award for 2015 -2016 to the Chief Minister's State Youth Award in 2019, the young achiever has won over 40 awards for his work.