When home is the street: Chennai pavement dwellers battle apathy

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For Dhanalakshmi S and her family, a small shack squeezed among scores of similar dwellings on a narrow street in Chennai has long been home.The 35-year-old and her four children share a water pump with 90 other families and take turns to use a public toilet.Dhanalakshmi is one of about 10,000 homeless people in Chennai, a city of about 8 million people, and a hub for auto makers and technology firms in the state of Tamil Nadu.Tamil Nadu is India's most urbanised big state, with hundreds of migrants making their way to cities from villages every day in search of jobs.Many, like Dhanalakshmi's grandparents, end up on the streets, unable to afford even the cheapest housing. Most remain there for decades, under the constant threat of eviction."It is not easy to live like this, sleeping, cooking, washing on the street. There is no dignity to our lives," said Dhanalakshmi, who has lived on Barracks Street in the city's commercial district all her life."We have been asking the government for a home nearby for years, but they only threaten to evict us and move us far away."The homes on Barracks Street are low shacks with a metal roof covered in tarpaulin. Pots, utensils, trunks and shelves spill out, with clothes lines hanging on walls and a scooter or bicycle parked outside a few shacks.City officials say they are gradually relocating pavement dwellers slowly to permanent homes in the suburbs."We simply do not have space in the city for homes for all pavement dwellers," said K.S. Kandasamy, deputy commissioner of the city's corporation."There are adjustments to be made, but they get good homes of their own, and they will have a far better quality of life than on the street," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.UNDER BRIDGES

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