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Mapping Homeless Hotspots

September 7, 2013 by

Transparent Chennai recently undertook an exercise to map clusters of the homeless population in the city, by getting together representatives of various non-government organisations (NGOs). According to a survey undertaken by the Chennai Corporation, the number of homeless persons in Chennai has been identified as 11,116.[1] But there are suggestions of a possible undercounting, because a study, undertaken in 2003 identifies around 40,000 homeless people.[2] The numbers are believed to have definitely increased by now. Until May 2013, there are fifteen shelters for the homeless population but some were found to remain permanently closed and many others lacking in basic amenities. The Chennai Corporation had announced that it would open eight more night shelters for the homeless and also roped in fifteen NGOs to run the existing and new shelters. However, there was no exact knowledge on where clusters of homeless people are located and their accurate numbers in every place for effective planning of the number of shelters and their location. Hence, this mapping exercise aimed to do a rapid assessment of homeless clusters before a new complete enumeration of the homeless population and to inform policy on where to locate new shelters.

On this account, a pilot was carried out on June 25, 2013 at the Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO) Office in Anna Nagar. Representatives from NGOs like ICWO, Siga and Karunalaya were present. As a first step, we tried to classify the homeless. These representatives pointed out that there were individuals and families and among the individuals, there were different vulnerable categories like street children, destitute women, mentally-challenged, transgender, aged, differently-abled and unorganized beggars. We also identified that all the individuals and families came under another broader classification of permanent dwellers and temporary or migrant dwellers.

Image 1: The discussion on the classification of the homeless

Based on this classification, we then moved on to mapping them across the various zones. The landmarks in the maps usually served as pointers by which the people identified the locations of the homeless. Adhesive stickers or bindis of different colours and sizes were used to represent the types and size of the homeless population clusters. There was an enthusiastic response from the people as they tried their best to map even homeless individuals living alone, whom they had worked with. At the end of the preliminary attempt, the maps had great visual appeal, locating huge clusters in some areas where there were almost 1000 families at a single spot.

Image 2: The mapping process of a huge cluster of the homeless

Image 3: Mr. Charles of NGO Rehoboth mapping the homeless in Zone 1

Image 4: A mapping session in progress

This exercise was continued on July 29, 2013 at the ICSA Board Room in Egmore with more NGOs. It was overwhelming to see a bigger set of enthusiastic representatives from eleven NGOs. It also proved to be great fun. With three mapping exercises in one week, the Transparent Chennai team had set the ball rolling. We have now compiled this data for the entire city and created a complete database of homeless hotspots in the city with the help of the expertise of NGOs and members of the community. More data will be included in these maps and the database after the enumeration of the homeless in the city. Watch this space for updates!


Written by Diana Evangeline, intern, Transparent Chennai.

4 thoughts on “Mapping Homeless Hotspots

  1. Im Siddarth, doing third year B.Arch in Anna Univ. In this blog you hav put that You maped the Homeless in Chennai. We, the students are woring on a project to give a practical and sustainable solution to the homeless in Chennai. It would be of great help if you give that report details for our verification. Kindly do the required.

  2. Dear Transparent Chennai team

    I think this is an innovative way to begin in mapping the homeless. Since this looks very doable even in the city of Mumbai, I am just wondering what were the kinds of NGOs that participated in this exercise??
    We are also looking at doing a study on homeless families in Mumbai. Any inputs from your side will be most helpful.

    • Dear Rachel,

      Apologies for replying after several months but I only just saw your comment. If you can write to us at we can discuss our methodology and how a similar exercise could be undertaken in other cities, including Mumbai.