It was a lazy winter afternoon in 2006 when the Late Dr K.L Narayanan and Ms. Sarbani Das Roy (Co-founder and Secretary, Iswar Sankalpa) were strolling down A.J.C Bose Road in Kolkata, India. As they passed a huge garbage vat in Beniapukur (an area in Kolkata), a man with psychosocial disabilities in tattered clothes eating from the garbage pile, rooted them to the spot. A reputed NGO had its home just opposite the garbage vat and the organization distributed food to all the hungry and poor irrespective of caste, creed and religion but this man was not availing the food. It made them wonder why?
It was then that Dr Narayanan explained that on one hand, most people will not dare to come near this young man because people are afraid of the ‘mad’ while on the other hand people with psychosocial disabilities may also refuse to accept food because of the manifestations of their condition. Sometimes, they silently pass away from this world simply due to dehydration! And all this time, there is some family somewhere, who may still be waiting for the return of their only son. A child may be passing her childhood still expecting her mother to come back and hold her – A futile wait.
This was the defining moment which made them understand that this population on the streets of Kolkata were simply being overlooked by every sector of the Government and Society. This was a population which would never ever access any of the health care facilities or Government welfare schemes because they had lost everything – even their identity to a treatable condition – psychosis. According to the 2011 Census, there are 70,000 homeless people living in the streets of Kolkata. More than 10% of them have some mental health condition. Dr. Narayanan and Ms. Sarbani Das Roy then came together with a team of dedicated social workers and mental health professionals to take a ‘Sankalpa’ – a resolution – to change the way persons with psychosocial disabilities were cared for, approached and the way they accessed mental healthcare.
Soon after Iswar Sankalpa’s inception in 2007, the organization conducted a baseline survey of homeless persons with psychosocial disabilities within the 141 wards of Kolkata. The survey, conducted over a period of 8 months, identified over 466 persons in need of immediate medical treatment and psycho-social support. This survey also reported the profile of persons with mental health problems, the vulnerability of homeless women to sexual violence and the prevalence of substance abuse. Based upon the findings of the baseline survey conducted in 2007, Iswar Sankalpa initiated Naya Daur – outreach and community based mental health care and ongoing support for the target population, concentrating its activities mainly in the wards with the highest density of homeless persons with psychosocial disabilities.
From here began the constant innovation to create just systems of accessible mental healthcare for the vulnerable and ‘forgotten’ population of Kolkata, along with rehabilitation services for persons with psychosocial disabilities.
The Journey of Iswar Sankalpa
Naya Daur: The Flagship programme of Iswar Sankalpa.
A community based outreach programme which caters to homeless persons with psychosocial disabilities on the streets, with the aim of building a community support system around them. Operational in 40+ wards of South-Central Kolkata.
Reintegration: Inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities through reunion with families, access to entitlements, vocational skill building, avenues for supportive employment and community resettlement.
Day Care Centre : A centre located in the Hastings Police Station to provide psychosocial support to homeless persons with psychosocial disabilities.
Sarbari: A shelter for recovery and rehabilitation for urban homeless women with psychosocial disabilities.
Urban Mental Health Programme: Integrating mental healthcare services with the primary urban healthcare centres in partnership with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) in ward 78 and 82.
Day Care Centre: A centre located in a community centre to provide psychosocial support to homeless and home-based persons with psychosocial disabilities.
Marudyan: A shelter for recovery and rehabilitation for urban homeless men with psychosocial disabilities.
Nayagram: An assisted community living programme in Uttar Kashipur, West Bengal for homeless women with psychosocial disabilities, where the women earn a livelihood through engagement in agricultural work and animal husbandry.
Urban Mental Health Programme: Expansion of the Urban Mental Health Programme in partnership with Kolkata Municipal Corporation in wards 11, 26 and 54.
Crust and Core: A livelihood venture of Iswar Sankalpa, serving as a café cum training unit to develop skills for sustainable employment.
Naya Daur: Expansion of the community outreach programme to an additional 20 wards in North-central Kolkata.
Homeless women’s collective: Capacity building of urban homeless women of Kolkata in key thematic areas: Overall living conditions, Health & hygiene and livelihood; enabling them to improve their quality of life.
Group home: An assisted community living programme near Marudyan for homeless men who’ve battled psychosocial disabilities and are earning a livelihood.
Urban Mental Health Programme: Expansion to ward 37 in partnership with Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
Naya Daur: Expansion of the community outreach programme to an additional 15 wards in North-central Kolkata.
Urban Mental Health Programme: Expansion to wards 96 and 6 in partnership with Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
Crust & Core: Collaborations for catering (American Centre, Alipore Museum).