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College students help count city’s homeless

Facebook, word-of-mouth approach used to reach out to youth and ask for volunteers.
Hindustan Times | By Sneha Mahale Sneha Mahale Sneha Mahale Sneha Mahale Sneha Mahale Sneha Mahale, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2011 03:07 PM IST

On February 28, 25 college students in Mumbai didn’t party, catch a movie or hang out with their friends. They joined youth leaders, young professionals, NGOs and members of a group called Alternative Realities in counting the number of homeless in the city. Spanning all seven zones, the survey had enumerators and volunteers visit locations around the city on Monday night. It was conducted in collaboration with the BMC and census officials.

“Students from TISS were present. We also used the word-of-mouth approach and spoke to several college teachers and asked them to spread the word. We also used social media like Facebook to reach out to the youth and get them to volunteer,” says Abhishek Bharadwaj, founder president, Alternative Realities.

Incidentally, a survey conducted by the group earlier had revealed that there were more than 100,000 homeless citizens in Mumbai. It was to ensure that these people could live with dignity that Alternative Realities lobbied to have the homeless included in the census conducted this year. After much deliberation, the Indian government agreed.

The procedure followed was similar to the national census, which is currently underway. Volunteers fanned out across the city a couple of days earlier to identify places where the homeless slept at nights. They then accompanied officials to those areas on Monday night and the census forms were filled with details such as name, age and profession. However, the enumerators were unable to cover the entire city and only data of about 35,000-40,000 homeless was collected. “We didn’t have enough volunteers. Many people learnt about the activity later. I received several posts on Facebook and emails asking to participate, but it was over by then,” says Bharadwaj.

He hopes that once the data is compiled and released, they will be able to use it to leverage policies in favour of the homeless. “But since the data is incomplete, we will approach the state to help us conduct the census again. We’ll also ask more volunteers to sign up so that we can cover more area and people.”

To volunteer for the next survey or just volunteer, please email

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