Genesis of Houselessness in the Megapolises: A Case Study of Kanpur City (Inde) Volume 4, Numéro 2

Origine du phénomène de sans-abri dans une mégalopole : le cas de la ville de Kânpur (Inde)

Dr Shamshad

Abstract: In the present study, an attempt has been made to analyze the migration status of houseless households and their various socio-economic causes of houselessness in the Kanpur city. The study is based on primary source of data generated through a comprehensive field survey in the city carried out during 2012. The study reveals that the economic reasons, by far, predominated among the causes of houselessness the city in comparison to social, biological and natural causes of houselessness, because nearly three-fourth proportion of the houseless population in the city is the upshot of the economic causes while more than one-fifth people became houseless due to social causes, followed by the biological factors and natural calamities. 

Keywords: Migration; Causes; Houseless Population; Houselessness; Kanpur City


RésuméDans la présente étude, une tentative a été faite pour analyser le statut migratoire des ménages de sans-abri et leurs différentes causes socio-économiques dans la ville de Kânpur. L’étude est basée sur des données primaires obtenues lors d’une enquête menée sur le terrain au cours de l’année 2012. L’étude révèle que les raisons économiques dominent de loin les causes du fait d’être sans abri dans la ville en comparaison  avec les causes sociales, biologiques et naturelles. Environ les trois quarts de la population de sans-abri de la ville disent être dans cette situation en raison des conditions économiques alors que plus d’une personne sur cinq estime se retrouver sans abri en raison des causes sociales; viennent ensuite les facteurs biologiques et les désastres naturels. 

Mots clés : Migration, Causes, population sans abri, sans abri, ville de Kanpur



Objectives of the study
The study area
Database and methodology
Results and discussion
Migration status of houseless population
Socio-economic causes of houselessness
Social causes of houselessness
Economic causes of houselessness
Biological causes of houselessness
Various causes of houselessness
Conclusions and recommendations


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Housing is one of the three basic needs of human beings (Sinha, 1969: 91), which still remains unfulfilled in many parts of the world. The lack of a house results in the severe loss of privacy, security, dignity of a person, possessions and comfort. At the present time, more than 100 million people are houseless in this democratic world (Badiaga et al., 2008: 1353-1359), and according to 2011b Census of India, there are nearly two million houseless people in this country, out of which, 18.6 percent (3,29,049 persons) live in the state of Uttar Pradesh where Kanpur city is located. In the present study, the houseless population is defined ‘as persons who do not live in a house, having few possessions with them and used to sleep and live in the informal places, not meant for human habitation, excluding the slums dwellers, nomadic tribal people (gipsies) and Hindu saints while a house is taken as a physical structure of dwelling with roof and walls as a separate unit having the separate main entrance into it from the public way’ (Shamshad, 2014: 106). The genesis of houselessness runs the gamut of the loss of jobs, closure of businesses, broken relationships, low level of education and skills, drug or alcohol addiction, family violence, mental illness, fire in or condemnation of apartments, lack of affordable housing, and long-term poverty (Hertzberg, 1992: 152). The changing nature of housing, employment opportunities, lack of supportive programmes for the poor and mentally and physically ill people are also among the leading concerns that have increased houselessness (Burt, 1991: 903-936).

In fact, houselessness is not a sudden event in the lives of most of the houseless people. It is usually the culmination of a long process of economic hardship, isolation, and social dislocation that can cause the cycle of houselessness (Wolch, Dear & Akita, 1988: 443-453). Unaffordable, overcrowded, and substandard housing situations, stemming from a lack of affordable housing, are consistent with definitions of being at-risk of houselessness (Eberle, Kraus & Pomeroy, 2001: 6-8; Forrest, 1999: 17-36; Hulchanski & Shapcott, 2004: 3 -11). People can become permanently un-housed as a result of a temporary negative income shock and loss of income or low income (Crane, 1996: 389-398; Keigher & Greenblatt, 1992: 457-465). Low income, combined with an inability to borrow money or hire the accommodation, forces people into houselessness in the first period, and the resultant productivity loss reduces the chances to afford housing in the subsequent period too. Increase in income lowers the probability of being houseless (Early, 2005: 40). The unemployment is also an important reason for houselessness, and seeing houselessness as the end of the road for the unemployed is not a mistaken view (Iwata, 2010: 127). People whose homes were repossessed following housing debt caused by unemployment, who left deprived areas seeking work elsewhere, or fled domestic violence, might have deliberately undertaken actions resulting into houselessness (Loveland, 1991: 284). The over whelming reason that people find themselves into houselessness is associated with extreme poverty (Rossi & Wright, 1987: 19-32; Kellett & Moore, 2003: 123). Responses reflect the complexity of the issues but poverty is the common denominator of houselessness. Many people have been poor for a long time and are tipped over the edge by loss of job and abode. Others have been middle class, pulled by circumstances or bad choices into poverty (Hertzberg, 1992: 152).

The substance abuse plays a determining role in household lives (Early, 2005: 36), as alcohol or drug abuse is common among the houseless population (Stergiopoulos & Herrmann, 2003: 376 and Thompson et al., 2010: 193-217). The substance abuse augments the risk for both houselessness (Corrigan & Anderson, 1984: 535-549; Koegel, Burnam & Farr, 1988: 1011-1018; Rosenheck et al., 1989: 937-942) and major health problems (Martens, 2001: 13-33; Plumb, 1997: 973-975; Smereck & Hockman, 1998: 299-319). The discussions regarding ‘domestic violence’ regularly include the term home, the place where it takes place (Meth, 2003: 317-327). Unlike normative notions of the family which assume that all families are places of nurture and support (Wright, 1997: 2), the families of many houseless young people have been characterised by parent–child conflicts, discipline problems, poor communication, poor supervision, physical and sexual abuse, lack of affection and caring, and substance abuse problems (cf. Hyde, 2005: 172; McCormack, Janus & Burgess, 1986: 387-395; Miller, Eggertson-Tacon & Quigg, 1990: 271-289; Whitbeck & Simons, 1990: 108-125; Rotheram-Borus, Koopman &  Ehrhardt, 1991: 1188-1197; Kipke et al., 1997b: 415-431).

Moreover, lack of family stability and death of spouse or relative are also important factors for houselessness (Moneyham & Connor, 1995: 12 and Crane, 1996: 389-398). The concept of social exclusion implies a lack of social ties and relations revealing social marginalisation (Edgar, Doherty, & Mina-Coull, 1999: 47). Social ties facilitate and regulate good health practices (Umberson 1987: 306-319), provide nurturance in times of physical crisis (Tausig, 1986: 267-280), and allay depressed mood (Turner, 1981: 357-367). Traditionally, leaving or running away from home was viewed as a form of delinquency characterised by disobedience and acting out (Lipschutz, 1977: 321-332; Hier, Korboot & Schweitzer, 1990: 761-771; Zide & Cherry, 1992: 155-168 and Schaffner, 1999: 40-63). Further, many houseless  people  are  predisposed  to  mental  illness from  the consequences  associated with  houselessness, such  as poor  health  and  physical disabilities  (Wright, 1990: 49-64 and Keigher & Greenblatt, 1992: 457-465). Serious mental illness and physical co-morbidity are common among houseless people (Barak & Cohen, 2003: 153; Early, 2005: 36 and Stergiopoulos & Herrmann, 2003: 376).


The following main specific objectives of the present study are: 1) to examine the migration status of houseless population in Kanpur city; 2) to investigate the socio-economic causes of houselessness in the city; and 3) to suggest some remedial measures to overcome the problem of houselessness in the city.


Kanpur city is located in the central part of the state of Uttar Pradesh (Fig. 1). It was the largest as well as most populous metropolitan city of the state until 2001 (Census of India, 2001). Since 2011 (Census of India 2011a), it slipped down to the second position after Lucknow (28,15,601), the capital city of the state. According to 2011a Census, the city had a population of 2.67 million which made it the twelfth most highly populated city in India. The city has been known as the economic and industrial capital of Uttar Pradesh. The municipal area of Kanpur city is about 605 square kilometers. The city is administratively divided into 6 zones and 110 wards (the inner core area of Kanpur constitutes 67 wards) with an average ward population ranging between 20,000 to 25,000 persons (Kanpur City Development Plan, 2006).

The data have been collected at ward level but analysis has been made at the zone level   because the geographical area of wards is much smaller than zones. The number of houseless households is higher in Zone 1 than all the other zones of Kanpur city because it is the old part of the city which is characterised by high concentration of administrative, commercial and manufacturing enterprises, high population density, and good connectivity of railways and roadways that attract petty workers in large numbers.


Fig. 1: Location of the Study Area (Kanpur City)

Zone 2 is the largest zone of the Kanpur city in terms of area, most of the wards of this zone are newly developed and witness the characteristics of both the rural as well as the urban land use, excluding a few wards like Zazmau North and Zazmau South. The Cantonment, Aerodrome and C.O.D. (Central Ordinance Depot) too are the parts of this zone. The southern part in the mid of the Kanpur city is occupied by Zone 3, through which the National Highway 86 (NH 86) i.e. Hamirpur Road passes. Zone 4 is also characterised by older part of the city but it is more residential in character followed by the commercial activities. Zone 5 lies in the south-western part of the city and the railway line passes through mid of this zone. No sample of houseless households was taken from the Armapur Estate of this zone because of total absence of the houseless population in that area. Zone 6 is one of the newly settled parts of the city nearly propelling along the Grant Trunk Road which provides broad spacious pavements for living and sleeping for the houseless population.


Present study is based on primary source of data generated through a comprehensive field survey of Kanpur city in 2012. Having identified the houseless households in prior visits in each ward, the individual slips (questionnaires) were used to ease the task of survey in the city. The information was gathered by the investigator through the direct questionnaire to the respondents face to face.

Among the total 110 wards of the Kanpur city, the houseless population was found only in the 96 wards and Cantonment area while houselessness was not found in remaining 14 wards, Armapur estate, Aerodrome and C.O.D. (Central Ordinance Depot) areas during the survey in the city.

Ward in Kanpur city is the smallest administrative unit and houseless household has been taken as the smallest unit for data collection. For ease of understanding, the collected data were spatially presented through zone-wise limit of the city. Initially, it was planned to select 30 percent houseless households randomly from each ward. Three pilot surveys were carried out in the city during May, August and November in 2011; in these surveys; it was observed that the number of houseless households varied with time even within a day and from one place to another in an area. Thus, the four periods of time in a day i.e. early morning (6 am to 9 am), noon (12 pm to 3 pm), evening (6 pm to 9 pm)  and late night (9 pm to 12 midnight) were taken to carry out the survey on houseless households, in which two periods (i.e. early morning and late night) experienced the large number of houseless households due to space available for sleeping/living after closing of shops/markets, and to take rest after work as a casual workers during day time, while the other two periods (i.e. noon and evening) witnessed the small number of houseless households due to opening of shops/markets, and the working hours as people mostly used to go for jobs during day time. Moreover, some houseless households were very difficult to be identified at all, at any particular place and time due to lack of their fixed abode and hidden nature of abode (not easily recognisable to general public i.e. whether an individual man is either houseless or not),  therefore, 10 per cent houseless households were considered as hidden because during pilot surveys most probably around 10 per cent households were unidentified and verified by the municipal corporation and inhabitants of the city (Pleace, Burrows & Quilgars, 1997: 1-18; FEANTSA, 1999).

A random sampling was used to obtain information from the houseless households. When an actual count of the houseless households was attempted, it was found out that this was a highly mobile population and, thus, very difficult to track and estimate accurately. The problem of mobility and hidden nature of houselessness affected the estimates of houseless populations due to undercountings or double countings of some households. Consequently, the houseless households in prior visits in each ward were identified and their tentative list was prepared by the investigator for their easy random selection in the samples for the data.


Source: Based on primary survey, 2012

Table 1: Zone-Wise Distribution of Surveyed Houseless Households in Kanpur City

Keeping these things in mind, a sample of 25 per cent houseless households was randomly selected for the survey from the tentative list of each ward. At last, the sampled houseless households of all the wards lying in a zone were summed up zone-wise for easy spatial data analysis. The survey consisted of 1384 houseless households in the Kanpur city, comprising a total population of 2353 houseless persons (see Table 1).


Migration status of houseless population

Migration refers to the change of residence of an individual from one area to another (Hagerstrand, 1957: 28) which implies spatial mobility of population including all sorts of territorial movements (Trewartha, 1969: 137). According to Gosal (1961, pp.106-121), migration is not only the shift of people from one place to another, but also it is one of the most fundamental factor helping to understand the ever-changing ‘space-content’ and ‘space-relations’ of a region. In fact, migration has been a universal characteristic of people since the human history (Singh, 2005: 179) for a variety of reasons, sometimes in search of food, at other times to escape from natural calamities, threats, and enemies or to seek adventure, but in recent times, migration has greatly occurred owing to the socio-economic opportunities in bigger cities.


Source: Based on primary survey, 2012.

Table 2: Distribution of Migratory Status of Houseless Households in the City

The zone wise distribution of migrants and non-migrants is given in Table 2. An analysis of this table shows that the number of migrants is greater than non-migrants in all the zones of Kanpur city. Out of the total 1384 houseless households surveyed, 1282 were migrants which are more than ninety percent of the total houseless households recorded in the Kanpur city. Out of the total migrant houseless households, males and females accounted 1184 and 98 respectively. It was mainly due to male selective migration from the rural areas to the city for employment opportunities. These rural in-migrants try their best to get some work, and willingly do any kind of work, even the petty jobs like pulling cycle rickshaw or load rickshaw, construction work, rag picking, etc. They can work as waiters, cooks, street venders, loaders and un-loaders, cobblers, domestic servants, etc. (Shamshad, 2014: 94). This rural to urban migration is the result of large size of rural population with low or disguised employment. Nearly 70 percent population of India still lives in villages and works in agricultural sector (Census of India, 2011). However, the total number of non-migrants houseless households in the city is 102, in which 93 are males and 9 females.

The zone wise distribution revealed that the maximum number of houseless migrants was registered in Zone 1 (539), followed by Zone 6 (179), Zone 4 (170), Zone 5 (159), Zone 3 (138), and Zone 2 (97). In Zones 1, 3, 5 and 6, more than 90 percent houseless households were migrants, while in Zone 2 and 4, more than four-fifths were migrants (see Figure 2). An examination of data given in Table 2 depicts that the number of houseless migrants exceeds the number of female migrants in all the zones. The maximum and minimum number of houseless male migrants was witnessed in Zones 1 and 2 viz., 517 and 88, respectively. The respective figures for houseless female migrants were 22 and 9 in Zones 1 and 2 (Zone 3 also recorded 22 houseless female migrants in the city). Among non-migrant houseless households too, share of males surmounts the females in the whole city.


Source: based on table 2

Socio-economic causes of houselessness

Zone wise percent distribution of data on the causes of houselessness in the Kanpur city is given in Table 3. These data depict that nearly three-fourths of the houseless population in Kanpur city is the upshot of economic reasons while more than one-fifth became houseless due to social causes, followed by biological factors and natural calamities. It means that though houselessness is a social phenomenon, most of its regulative genes lie in the economic arena; therefore, the diagnostic parameters to sweep the problem of houselessness have to be adopted in economic perspectives too. The volume of female houselessness is determined by the social and economic causes nearly at the ratio of fifty-fifty whereas the male houselessness is influenced by the economic and social causes in two-third and one-fourth proportion respectively. Thus, economic issues are commonly identified as major factors contributing to houselessness (Caton, 1990: 150-151;Wolch  & Dear,  1993: 239-240), but not all people  with financial problems  become  homeless  (Baum  &  Burnes,  1993: 3-5).


 Source: Based on primary survey, 2012

 Table 3: Percent Distribution of Causes of Houselessness in Kanpur City

The zone wise analysis indicates that the ratio of houselessness produced by the social causes in each zone of the city is recorded above 20 percent, the maximum and minimum percentages being registered 33.11 percent in Zone 4 and 20.65 percent in Zone 1 respectively. The economic causes responsible for houselessness accounted for the largest share in all the zones of the city among all houselessness causing factors, and the range of houselessness resulting from the economic causes varies from the highest 75.88 percent in Zone 1 to the lowest 60.70 percent in Zone 4. As far as the biological reasons of houselessness are concerned, they caused a lesser amount of houselessness in the city, not comprising more than seven percent of the houseless population in any zone, while other causes of houselessness are limited to less than one percent in all zones except in Zone 3 which observed 1.27 percent volume of houseless population under the category of other causes (see Figure 3).


 Source: based on table 3

The ratio of female houselessness ascertained by the social causes surpasses the male houselessness in the whole city and exceeds one-third proportion in each zone. On the other hand, the share of male houselessness ensured by the economic causes in the city overstepped the female houselessness. The houseless females over exceed the houseless males in the study area caused by the biological factors, while not even a single houseless female in the whole city became houseless due to natural calamities.

Social causes of houselessness

Table 4 gives detailed data about percent distribution of social causes of houselessness in Kanpur city. This table expresses that among the social causes of houselessness, instability and no family are the main causes in the city which account for nearly one-third of the houseless population. The combined proportion of four social factors namely instability, no family, no siblings, no proof of ID produced 56.6 percent houselessness in the city. The subsequent significant social causes of houselessness in descending order are no relatives (9.5 percent), social persecution stigmatisation (6.05 percent), being widowed/divorced (3.96 percent), abandoned by the family (3.91 percent), being runaway (3.3 percent), parents houselessness (3.2 percent), domestic violence (2.85 percent), family breakdown (2.39 percent), orphanage (1.93 percent) and others (6.30 percent) (look Box 1).

The category of other social causes responsible for houselessness in the city includes having no friends (1.63 percent), over-crowding (1.22 percent), substance abuse (0.81 percent), extortion of house and house damage/displaced (0.76 percent each), parents’ illness/death (0.25 percent), house fire (0.20 percent), step parents and no demand of skills (0.15 percent), no interest to live in house and foreclosure (0.10 percent), indefinite timing of work, parents remarriage and parents being run away (0.05 percent each).  Integrants  implicated in houselessness include  family &  social  networks and  individual conditions, especially psychological problems (Baum  &  Burnes, 1993: 86-91; Susser, Struening & Conover, 1987: 1599-1601; Zozus & Zax, 1991: 535-537). Likewise, the data given in Table 4 reveals that the volume of female houselessness is more ordained by the social causes of having no relatives, social persecution stigmatisation, abandoned by the family, domestic violence, widowed/divorced, and family breakdown in comparison to the male houselessness in the city.


Source: Based on primary survey, 2012

 Table 4: Percent Distribution of Social Causes of Houselessness in Kanpur City

The instability as a cause of houselessness occupied first place in terms of percentage in four zones i.e. Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6, whereas in Zone 1 and Zone 2, the first percental position is maintained by no family and no proof of ID respectively. The houselessness in Zone 1 is significantly decided by the factors like having no family, no siblings, no proof of ID and no relatives whereas instability accounted for only 4.76 percent. The causes of instability, no family, no siblings, no proof of ID, and no relatives and parents houselessness resulted in 10 to 20 percent houselessness in Zone 2. An aggregate percentage share of causes namely instability, no family and social persecution stigmatisation in Zone 3 and instability, no family and no siblings in Zone 4 is observed to be 57.54 and 47.69 percent respectively. There are only two causes of houselessness i.e. instability and no family which have recorded more than ten percent in all the zones, whereas the combined percentage share of these two causes is observed as high as 42.59 percent in Zone 5 and 35.23 percent in Zone 6.

Another important inference that may be drawn from the data given in Table 4 is that all the social causes of houselessness listed in the table have induced the problem of houselessness in all the zones of the city, barring the orphanage which contributed less than one percent houseless persons only in Zone 1 and Zone 5. The three social causes viz., instability, runaway and orphan are least concerned with the female houselessness in comparison to males. On the contrary, the female houselessness is significantly stimulated by the no family, no siblings, no relatives, widowed/divorced, and family breakdown among the social causes of houselessness.

Economic causes of houselessness

Table 5 comprises percentage distribution of data about the economic causes of houselessness in the city. This table shows that high rent of housing & mortgage and low income & poverty are the principal detrimental factors of houselessness and constitut more than half of the houseless population in the city. The economic causes which produced houselessness more than five percent but less than ten percent in the city are remittances, to support the family, having moved to Kanpur city, unemployment and high price level which altogether contributed 37.89 percent proportion of houselessness. However, the attraction to glamour of the city and loss of jobs resulted in 3.03 and 1.40 percent houseless persons in the study unit respectively.


 Source: Based on primary survey, 2012

Table 5: Percent Distribution of Economic Causes of Houselessness in Kanpur City

Other economic causes of houselessness having 1.05 percent share incorporate the substandard housings, security purpose, no house/land, no income, house sold, no room for single person, new comer for work, land lord getting the house vacated, no savings and more expenditure (Box 2). Therefore, the pathways into houselessness include deinstitutionalisation, lack of affordable housing, low income and high cost of rent (Crane, 1996: 389-398; Doolin, 1986: 229-231; Tully & Jacobson, 1994: 61-81; Roth & Bean, 1986: 712-719; Cohen, 1911: 5-14), and an unstable residential history and remittances (Keigher & Greenblatt, 1992: 457-465).

Table 5 unfolds the fact that the economic causes of houselessness which determine substantially greater ratio of female houselessness than the male houselessness are poverty (20.69 percent), having moved to Kanpur city (9.66 percent), and high price level (12.41 percent), while all other remaining causes of houselessness germinated larger proportion of male houselessness in comparison to the female houselessness in the city. The ratio of high rent of housing causing the houselessness ranges from 14 to 17 percent in all the zones of the city. The low income causes the highest percentage of houselessness in Zone 4 and least in Zone 3. The maximum and minimum range of mortgage for houselessness varies from 16.52 percent in Zone 1 to 6.35 percent in Zone 3. The poverty and remittances contribute their greatest share in Zone 6 (15.53 percent) and Zone 5 (10.96 percent) and least share in Zone 1 (9.83 percent) and Zone 6 (8.43 percent) respectively.

Notwithstanding, the unemployment and high price level among the economic causes also have considerable effect on houselessness and they recorded even above five percent share in few selected zones like unemployment in Zone 1 (7.60 percent), Zone 5 (9.45 percent) and Zone 6 (6.95 percent), and high price level in Zone 2 (6.24 percent), Zone 4 (9.51 percent), Zone 5 (7.81 percent), and Zone 6 (8.88 percent). However, attraction to glamour of the city, loss of job and other economic causes of houselessness do not ensue more than five percent houselessness in any zone of the city.

Biological causes of houselessness

The percent distribution of data regarding biological causes of houselessness has been provided in the Table 6. This table discloses the fact that among the proportion of houselessness caused by the biological causes, more than half is the outcome of poor health, because people with poor health can neither get daily work nor have capacity to do hard work which makes it difficult for them to retain shelter and forces them to down move the streets as houseless. Mentally disordered people have been considered as financial burden and problematic persons by their family members particularly in developing countries due to limited availability of resources and huge demand for care of mentally challenged people. In the absence of a caring family, such people are more likely to land on footpaths as houseless or homeless.


Source: Based on primary survey, 2012

Table 6: Percent Distribution of Biological Causes of Houselessness in Kanpur City

Second most important biological cause of houselessness is the mental illness which contributed more than one-fourth proportion of houseless population, followed by physical disability, depression, old age, accidents and hospital referrals. More than eighty percent male as well as female houselessness is aggravated by the poor health and mental illness. Male houselessness is found to have occurred under all the biological factors listed in the table but the female houselessness is caused only by four causes namely poor health, mental illness, physical disability and depression. Not even a single female has witnessed houseless due to old age, accidents and hospital referrals.

Further examination of the Table 6 demonstrates that poor health engenders more than 60 percent houselessness in all zones, excluding Zone 2 and Zone 5. Mental illness causes houselessness to more than one-third houseless households only in three zones of the city viz., Zones 1, 2 and 5. The zone-wise sum of the ratio of houselessness caused by poor health and mental illness is at registered 98.39 percent (Zone 1), 75.00 percent (Zone 2), 89.65 percent (Zone 3), 73.61 percent (Zone 4), 86.67 percent (Zone 5), and 78.00 percent (Zone 6).

Various causes of houselessness

The zone wise percentage distribution of data about the various socio-economic causes of houselessness in the Kanpur city has been inserted in the Table 7.

It would be seen from this table that more than one-fifth of the houselessness is the outcome of only two causes, namely high rent of housing and low income of people in the city. In addition to it, nearly one-fourth of the houseless population is direct upshot of three factors i.e. mortgage (8.84 percent), poverty (8.47 percent), and remittances (7.04 percent), followed by those who have become houseless, to support the family (6.03 percent), by having moved to Kanpur city (5.05 percent), due to unemployment (4.84 percent), high price level (4.35 percent), instability (3.86 percent), because of having no family (3.71 percent), no siblings (3.30 percent), no proof of ID (2.56 percent), poor health (2.35 percent), no relatives (2.26 percent), having attracted to the glamour of the city (2.18 percent), due to social persecution stigmatisation (1.44 percent), mental illness (1.07 percent), loss of job (1.01 percent), and others (8.10 percent).

The socio-economic causes of houselessness incorporated in the category of others in Table 7 are being widowed/divorced (0.95 percent), abandoned by the family (0.93 percent), runaway (0.78 percent), parents’ houselessness (0.76 percent), domestic violence (0.68 percent), family breakdown (0.57 percent), orphan (0.46 percent), no friends (0.39 percent), physical disability (0.27 percent), depression (0.21 percent), substance abuse, substandard housing and natural calamities (0.19 percent each), extortion of house and house damage & displaced (0.18 percent each), security purpose (0.16 percent), no house/land (0.10 percent), no income (0.08 percent), parents’ illness/death, house sold and no room for single person (0.06 percent each), house fire and new comer for work (0.05 percent each), no demand of skills, step parents, oldness and landlord getting the house vacated (0.04 percent each), foreclosure, accidents and no interest to live in house (0.02 percent each), hospital referrals, no saving, indefinite time of work, parents remarriage, parents runaway and more expenditure (0.01 percent each).



Source: Based on primary survey, 2012

Table 7: Percent Distribution of Various Socio-Economic Causes of Houselessness in Kanpur City

Further analysis of Table 7 shows that the causes for greater proportion of female houselessness are predominated by the poverty, high price level, no family, no siblings, poor health, no relatives, social persecution stigmatisation, mental illness and others in comparison to male houselessness while reverse condition is witnessed in other remaining causes of houselessness. The role of these causes of houselessness is analysed in Table 7, which shows that each of them is comprised of more than 5% share individually among all the factors of houselessness. It exhibits that more than 70 percent houseless population has been living without roof over their head in Zone 1 mainly due to high rent of housing, low income, mortgage, poverty, remittances, to support the family, having moved to Kanpur city and unemployment. About three-fifth houseless persons in Zone 2 are forced by high rent of housing, low income, mortgage, poverty remittances and to support the family to render as shelterless. The high rent of housing, low income, poverty, remittances, having to support the family, having moved to Kanpur city, high price level and instability induced two-thirds of houseless population in Zone 3. Only half of the houseless population in Zone 4 is factors by high rent of housing, low income, poverty, remittances, high price level, instability and no family, whereas more than 70 percent houselessness in Zone 5 is loomed by the high rent of housing, low income, mortgage, poverty, remittances, to support the family, unemployment, high price level and instability of houseless people.

At last, high rent of housing, low income, mortgage, poverty, remittance, need to support the family, high price level and instability have evoked more than three-fifth of the houselessness in Zone 6. Therefore, it is very clearly revealed from Table 7 that there are only six or seven main causes of houselessness, which are particularly economic in nature rather than social, which have rendered upto two-thirds of homeless people to the state of houselessness.


The foregoing analysis of the causes of houselessness reveals that the main cause of houselessness is the age as well as sex selective in-migration mainly from rural areas and basically for jobs. Because the number of migrants exceeds non-migrants in all zones of the city, more than ninety percent houseless households comprise migrants, More than ninety percent houseless households have male migrants. Nearly three-fourths of the houseless population in the city was the upshot of the economic reasons while more than one-fifth became houseless due to social causes. Further analysis of the causes of houselessness informs that among the social causes of houselessness, instability, no family, no siblings and no proof of ID were observed to be the main causes of houselessness in the city which combinedly accounted for more than fifty percent share of houseless population. Similarly, among the economic causes of houselessness, high rent of housing & mortgage and low income & poverty are the principal detrimental factors of houselessness which also constituted more than half of the houseless population in the city. As far as, biological causes of houselessness are concerned, nearly sixty percent share of houseless population in the city was the outcome of poor physical health. Second most important biological cause of houselessness was mental illness, which contributed more than one-fourth of the houseless population.

Overall analysis of socio-economic causes of houselessness exhibits that more than one-fifth of the houselessness in the city was the outcome of high rent of housing and low income of people. Moreover, nearly one-fourth of the houseless population was the direct upshot of mortgage, poverty and remittances, followed by need to support their family, by having moved to Kanpur city, due to unemployment, high price level, instability, because of having no family, no siblings, poor health, no relatives, having attracted to the glamour of the city, due to social persecution stigmatisation, mental illness, loss of job, and others. It means that in spite of being a social phenomenon, the problem of houselessness has most of its regulative genes of genesis in economic arena; therefore, the diagnostic parameters too have to be focused more towards the economic dimensions of the problem in order to sweep it out. Therefore, following suggestions are put forward to solve the problem of houselessness in the study area:

Though government has made provision of night shelter homes for 970 houseless people, these shelters are insufficient to meet the requirements of the total houseless population in the city. Actual functioning night shelter homes have even lesser capacity, they can accommodate only 660 houseless people. Zone wise ratios between the total capacity and actual stay in these accommodations vary. Actually, only 344 houseless people were living in the 14 functional night shelter homes out of total available 23 such homes. It means that, provision was made only for 10 percent houseless population, but actual functioning facility for stay was available only for 7 percent houseless persons, out of which, merely 3.50 percent lived in night shelter homes in the city. Therefore, there is a huge need for night shelter homes to be set up in each zone of the city besides the existing ones, particularly in places like Mool Ganj, Pared, General Ganj, Anwar Ganj, Harbansh Mohal, Civil Lines, Naya Ganj (Danakhori), Collector Ganj and Chauk Sarrafa in Zone 1; Safipur, cantonment area near railway station and Zazmao in Zone 2; Kidwai Nagar, Juhi Kala Hamirpur Road and Bakar Ganj in Zone 3; Chunni Ganj, Colonel Ganj, Gwal Toli and Nehru Nagar in Zone 4; Fazal Ganj, Bhannana Purwa, Govind Nagar and Nirala Nagar in Zone 5; and Kalyanpur, Gita Nagar, Naveen Nagar Kakadev, Vinayakpur, and Sarvodya Nagar in Zone 6. These night shelter homes should be established either at the main chaurahas or the main roads. This programme should be implemented soon be the old abandoned government buildings like railway quarters, warehouses, storage houses, community health centres, various mills and factories, etc.

The new night shelter homes should be furnished with all kinds of basic infrastructure facilities so that the houseless people can sense the feeling of being at home. Out of 23 existing night shelter homes, only 12 have a few basic infrastructure facilities, while 11 have nothing except the physical structure of building.

Moreover, special provision should be made for houseless families in the form of separate night shelters. Also, there should be a separate ‘women night shelter homes’ for individual houseless females. These night shelter homes should be popularised among houseless people because most of the houseless people do not even know about their existence. Some houseless persons complained that the duty-in-charge of these homes misbehave, torture, and abuse them, and with the help of police illegally imprison them in fake cases. They even extract their blood at night after giving them anesthesia. such culprits should be punished and provision should be made for full protection and safeguard of houseless people in night shelter homes.

The root of the problem of houselessness in the city lies in the rural areas of the country because more than seventy percent houseless people came from various villages. Further, nearly 85 percent houseless people were recorded as workers, mainly due to male selective migration from rural areas to the city for employment opportunities, high wages, and regularity of work. On the other hand, among push factors of out-migration from the places of origin, as informed by houseless persons, economic factors were main reason for 92 percent persons, followed by social and biological factors, and natural calamities. Likewise, more than nine-tenths houseless in-migrants in the city were pulled by economic factors, followed by social and biological factors. Therefore, employment opportunities in rural areas of the country must be developed to curb the influx of rural-urban migration. Thus, it is the need of the hour to pass an Act to support ‘Work for All’ to provide employment opportunities for everyone at their native places according to their ability for the whole year throughout the country.

In order to achieve this end, the subsidiary employment opportunities can be provided by developing  small scale household industrial units, and agro-based, agro-allied and ancillary industries like animal husbandry, poultry farms, fisheries, horticulture, floriculture, dairy, piggery, apiculture, silviculture, sericulture, etc. during agricultural slack seasons. In addition to it, MNUEGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Urban Employment Guarantee Act) on the guidelines of MNERGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) should also be launched to provide whole year work for the urban poor marginalised people so that they can also earn for, at least, two square meals a day.



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To cite this article

Electronic reference

Dr Shamshadi (2017). « Genesis of Houselessness in the Megapolises. A Case Study of Kanpur City ». Canadian journal of tropical geography/Revue canadienne de géographie tropicale [Online], Vol. (4) 2. Online in December 31, 2017, pp. 48-64. URL:



Dr Shamshadi
UGC DRS-III Project Fellow
Department of Geography
Faculty of Science
Aligarh Muslim University
Aligarh-202002, (U.P.) INDIA

Volume 4, Numéro 2
ISSN 2292-4108