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The Men’s Shelter

James, a Grade 11 student at ICS Zurich, had the opportunity to travel to Chennai at the end of June. Whilst there, he was able to get a glimpse of the work of The Banyan at the Men’s Shelter. Inspired by what he saw and the people he met, James is keen to promote the work of the shelter.

“When they first arrive, the clients are very vulnerable. They have been living on the streets, in poor physical and mental health and they take time to trust the social workers. The social workers are highly skilful in the way they build rapport with these fragile men, to gain an understanding of their individual needs.  The programme of care and rehabilitation is organised broadly into 3 stages.

At first, clients tend to be very quiet and simple activities, such as drawing, colouring and sticking paper, are designed to help them remain focussed and calm. Once they become more responsive and sociable, they get involved in craft activities, creating products which they can take to sell on the nearby beach. The commercial aspect to the therapy is an incentive to get involved and helps them to develop skills which can be transferred to jobs once they leave the shelter. The final stage of care is vocational training. The clients learn how to make candles, wash cars, do household jobs and some are even encouraged to set up small businesses. A shop at the entrance to the shelter is run completely by the clients and the money earnt is theirs to keep.

I was able to interview a few of the clients at the shelter. One is now a security guard at the shelter and is very proud of the work he does as he can support himself with a good monthly salary. Two other clients had been helped into employment at a restaurant by The Banyan. They are now able to support themselves; one lives with his father again and is able to contribute to his household. It’s clear that vocational training is crucial for a client’s self-confidence and rehabilitation.

As well as this, staff help clients to acquire their voter ID and citizenship ID, without which it is impossible to participate in elections or to find employment. As one social worker at the shelter described, The Banyan helps to transform the invisible homeless and mentally ill population into visible, contributing members of society.

I spent time with Mrilanili, who is responsible for running the shelter and asked her about the greatest challenges facing the facility.  She described how they lack the funds to feed the number of hungry people who arrive in the evening.  Numbers are unpredictable and it is difficult to cater for specific dietary requirements. One thing that would significantly improve everyday life at the shelter is a two-wheeler, which could be used to sell products they make along the beach and to take clients to the doctor when necessary. Looking forward, she hopes to be able start a gardening programme, which will undoubtedly enhance the therapeutic offering for the men.”

James found his time at the Men’s Shelter to be a truly uplifting experience.  It is a vibrant example of how The Banyan continues to push the boundaries of mental health care in India.

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About Men's Shelter

The Open Shelter service is run in partnership with the Corporation of Chennai and reaches out to around 30 men, homeless and struggling with their mental health, each month, many of whom eventually reunite with their families.