Jamal Uddin, a homeless man living on alms, has been facing immense difficulty in finding food during the last few days after the government announced a general holiday and shutdown of offices to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Jamal, who came to Chattogram from Sandwip, said, "I have children, but I do not go to them. I have been living here after the Meghna River washed away our home."
"But now I have no place to live. Government officials came and said we cannot live on the streets. So I came to the railway platform. But now they say they will drive us out of here too." Said the 65-year-old man.
"Where would we go then? Who will give us a place to stay? There is nobody on the streets, shops are closed, and nothing to eat," said the worried old man.
Jamal Uddin is only one of many such homeless people who now find it very difficult to find food and shelter.
Usually these people live in railway stations, bus stands, launch terminals, and parks, but now they have no place to go as the authority bar the gathering of people in many of these places. They also have nothing to eat now as they typically scavenge through leftovers at restaurants and houses for food.
Most of these homeless people are found in large metropolitan cities like Dhaka and Chattogram. However, the concerned departments in Chattogram do not know how many homeless people are living in the city.
The Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) and the District Relief and Rehabilitation Office (DRRO), could not give the number of the homeless people in the city.
DRRO official Sajib Kumar Chakrabarti said there has been no effort to count the number of homeless people who live on the streets of the city.
Mainul Hossain Ali Chowdhury, an official of the CCC, told The Business Standard, "A project titled 'Grihoheen Manusher Asroyon Prokolpp (Project for Sheltering Homeless People)' started in 2015, but it was not finished. We have no information about the people living on the footpaths, rail stations, bus terminals and other places in the city."
The administration says that no one can stay in public places, and police will take action if anyone found in these places.
Deputy Commissioner of Chattogram Md Elias Hossain said, "There was no separate decision regarding these (homeless) people. There is no possibility that they will be taken to a shelter. The Chattogram City Corporation will take measures for the homeless people in the city and the upazila administration will do that all across the division."
Chief Executive Officer of the CCC Md Samsuzzoha said, "The government has given us some relief material to distribute among the homeless people. But there is no other initiative other than this."
Doctors said the coronavirus can spread at an immense speed if any of these homeless people gets infected.
Dr Aniruddha Ghosh, professor at the medicine department at the Chattogram Medical College Hospital, said, "Homeless people barely manage their food. They are not very conscious about their health. If they come in contact with a corona patient, it can spread very quickly."
"These people should be given some shelter during this crisis. They should get all the protective equipment including hand sanitisers," he added.
Advocate Aktar Kabir Chowdhury, president of the Sachetan Nagorik Committee in Chattogram, said, "No one is thinking about the people who live on the streets. There are many cyclone shelters and other government buildings which are not usually used. These people can be sheltered there."
"It is the state's responsibility to provide food and shelter to every citizen, so it must do something for these helpless people," he added.
Meanwhile, some government and non-government organisations are distributing hand sanitisers in the slum areas, but homeless people are not getting any of them.
There are thousands of homeless people loitering across the city. Last Saturday, the DRRO office gave relief material to 500 people.