What steps can be taken to reduce and eradicate homelessness in Mumbai?

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Overview: Mumbai, India is one of the most populous cities in the world, with 21 million people. It also houses the third-largest homeless population in the world, and the socio-economic gap in the Indian financial capital only continues to widen. This severe dilemma has negative implications on the economy from an employment standpoint and is also directly linked to substandard healthcare & a lack of mental health awareness. There are numerous efforts that Mumbai’s municipality – The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) – can take in order to gradually reduce the homeless population, including making certain key infrastructural changes in and around the city, welcoming a more focussed approach to mental health, creating free housing, as well as ensuring that healthcare is readily available for the homeless population. The eradication of homelessness isn’t something that can be done overnight. With that said, what are the long-term implications on the government for investing in reducing, and how can the first step be taken toward solving this pressing issue?

What you need to know about homelessness in Mumbai: Back in November 2017, it was reported that 90% of Mumbai’s homeless population didn’t have access to sheltered accommodation. They still don’t. It is essential to take note that even the portion of Mumbai’s homeless that does have access to sheltered accommodation all reside in slum areas, which are highly unsanitary and are almost inhumane conditions to live in. Homelessness in Mumbai as well as in India has manifested poor well being for the masses, with vulnerability to severe diseases, poor sanitation, and increasing levels of both maternal and child mortality. There has been a lack of legal aid, medical aid, and the most basic amenities for the homeless for quite some time now.

The BMC has not made meaningful efforts toward getting people off the streets or prioritizing better healthcare for Mumbai’s homeless. Approximately one in six Indians live in urban slums, thus indicating that Mumbai (being an urban city) has an overwhelmingly large homeless population. Instead of prioritizing the improvement of the already existing slum areas in Mumbai, the BMC has expressed a far greater desire to improve the conditions of roads and act in a rather corrupt manner. For instance, their past pursuits of erecting buildings for financial purposes in the place of public parks and open, unoccupied spaces rather than create affordable and/or free housing for the homeless expresses their lack of concern toward the issue. Addressing homelessness has always been on the government’s “agenda”, however, it hasn’t been a top priority. The government hasn’t spent the time or money on ideating how homelessness can be reduced. Free housing, the improvement of existing slum areas, as well extending mental health and better healthcare toward the homeless are the different segments that play their individual roles in reducing homelessness for good. At the same time, it is key to note that there is an inordinate amount of corruption in both Mumbai and India at large.

Governments, in the past, have manipulated the public domain by making promises about how they will strive to help the homeless population if they are elected. Thus, it is not realistic for the homeless to only react to the government’s efforts with compliance. They could easily revolt against the government, saying that the so-called effort to help them is another strategy and an act of corruption. After all, there is precedent for such corruption. Lastly, Homelessness in India, specifically, is tied to corruption. This makes it a far deeper and controversial issue than people who don’t have a roof over their head.

Homelessness from a Game Theory perspective: Many scenarios that involve two players that usually compete against one another (country vs country, sports team vs sports team, mixed martial arts, etc) are often modelled using game theory. The two players in my model are the BMC and the homeless population, as it is the BMC’s actions that can impact the homeless’ lives. As mentioned earlier, a multitude of measures must be taken by the municipality for the homeless population to significantly decrease: the creation of free housing (infrastructural), a more focussed approach to mental health, the improvement of existing slum areas, and better healthcare for the homeless. The homeless can then choose to either comply with the BMC’s actions, revolt against their actions, or profit from it. 

Let’s define A, B, C for the government and the homeless. Government – A: Free housing, B: Better Healthcare, C: Improving Existing Slum Areas. Homeless – A: Comply, B: Revolt, C: Profit

Criteria: All payoffs for both the homeless and the government will be from a -4 – 4 scale (there won’t be any negative payoffs, as any investment in reducing homelessness will make a positive impact). 4 points are awarded to the homeless if they receive the following: better sanitation (1 pt), better healthcare – mental and physical (2 pts), shelter (1 pt). 4 points are awarded to the BMC if the following occurs: no increased expenditure (2 pts), reducing homeless rates (1 pt), the provision of better healthcare (1 pt). The increased expenditure is awarded two points because from a municipality’s perspective, they shouldn’t be compromising on other avenues solely for benefiting the homeless, so the strategy they choose must also be worth their time and money.

Now let’s look into what happens when the homeless decide to comply (A), revolt against (B), or profit (C) from the BMC’s actions.

Slum Residents and the homeless gathered for a protest in South Mumbai

 

THE GAME

Creation of free housing: The investment in making free or affordable housing for the poor and homeless is an endeavour that many countries’ governments embark on, with the purpose of reducing homelessness, financial instability, stress in families, and being prone to diseases. The BMC can go about doing this by constructing free houses in identified open spaces of suburban areas or Mumbai that aren’t being used. Additionally, they could choose to renovate abandoned buildings to house homeless people. 

Compliance (BMC plays A, Homeless plays A)

The municipality needn’t allocate a chunk of their budget on free housing by compromising on another expenditure, as they only need to prioritize free housing for the homeless in some spaces as opposed to constructing financial institutions and aimlessly spending money on things like roadworks. At the same time, they still have to compromise other avenues to create free housing; their payoff is 1 of 2 for no increased expenditure. They would be taking people off the streets by creating free housing, so their payoff is 1 of 1 for reducing homeless rates. Better healthcare (both mental and otherwise) is unfortunately not encapsulated by this measure, so their payoff for better healthcare is 0 of 1. Hence, the government’s total payoff for this outcome is 2 of 4. 

As for the homeless, with new housing, they will have better sanitation (1 of 1), access to good quality shelter (1 of 1), however, there isn’t a substantial impact on their mental health and healthcare from this measure as their existing mind or body problems aren’t really being solved. This gives us 0 for both improved mental health and better healthcare. Hence, the homeless’ total payoff is 2 of 4.

Revolt (BMC plays A, Homeless plays B)

This scenario would occur when the BMC announces that they are going to construct free housing for the homeless. In order to subdue chaos in the city, the government would most likely not proceed with their plans to make free housing if there was a strike, revolt, riot, or protest of some sort done by the homeless. There would not be any increased expenditure on this occasion from the BMC, so they get 2 of 2 points for this. However, they would also not reduce homeless rates (0 of 1) or provide better healthcare (0 of 1). Hence, the BMC’s total payoff for this outcome is 2 of 4. 

As for the homeless, they would only be aggravated. They wouldn’t actually benefit in any meaningful way apart from voicing their opinions. They wouldn’t receive shelter (0 of 1), they wouldn’t receive better sanitation (0 of 1), and they most certainly wouldn’t receive better healthcare (0 of 2). Hence, the total payoff for the homeless is 0 of 4.

Profit (BMC plays A, Homeless plays C)

This scenario would occur when the BMC actually constructs free housing for the homeless, but the homeless take advantage of the BMC’s kindness and decide to profit from this. They could convert the housing that’s been made especially for them into a location for an illegal operation and abuse the government’s kind actions. The government’s investment in making free houses would be a waste of money and for no purpose, hence their payoff would be -2 for this. The provision of free housing doesn’t translate to better healthcare, so their payoff for this would be 0 of 1. Ultimately, they would be reducing the homeless rates, so their payoff is 1 of 1 for this. Hence, the government’s payoff for this outcome is -1

The homeless, on the other hand, would gain shelter, as the government will have put a roof over their heads (1 of 1). Their environment will also have changed to one that is far more sanitary (1 of 1). They would not receive better healthcare from this outcome, so their payoff for better healthcare is 0 of 2. Hence, their total payoff is 2 of 4. 

Better healthcare (mental & physical): Healthcare improves one’s quality of life, life expectancy, and their self-confidence. People suffering from homelessness are far more likely to suffer from mental health issues, nor do they have access to good quality doctors, adequate food, etc. Both physical health and mental health need to be addressed by the BMC. Investing in interventions at early stages to prevent further homelessness from occurring and the linked healthcare outcomes, the genesis of more mental health institutions and better care for people with simultaneous mental health or substance usage problems, and the examination of the homeless population’s specific needs with regard to healthcare (recurring mental health issues, inadequate supply of food, physical disabilities, etc) are all meaningful ways in which the government can make an impact on this avenue.

Compliance (BMC plays B, Homeless plays A)

The BMC will have to allocate a significant amount of their budget toward investing in this area, so they receive 0 of 2 points for no increased expenditure. They are, however, providing better healthcare to the homeless, so their payoff for this is 1 of 1. Although this measure doesn’t lead to a direct reduction of homeless rates, resolving mental health issues and increasing the poorer population’s overall well-being is a key factor in ensuring that there is no more significant homelessness. For those reasons, their payoff for reducing homeless rates is 1 of 1. Hence, their total payoff is 2 of 4.

The homeless will receive better healthcare as well as improved mental health from this measure, therefore, their payoff will be 1 of 1 and 1 of 1 respectively. Better sanitation isn’t addressed from this measure, as improved mental health / physical health doesn’t impact the environment that they are around (0 of 1). This measure doesn’t give them shelter, so their payoff for this is 0 of 1. Hence, their total payoff from this outcome is 2 of 4.

Revolt (BMC plays B, Homeless plays B)

Even if the homeless revolt to the BMC offering them access to better healthcare, the BMC will still likely pursue this option. They would probably ensure that they can extend the gesture of providing better mental health and physical health to the homeless. By doing so, they would receive a payoff of 1 of 1 for providing better healthcare. They would land up spending plenty of money on this, so their payoff is 0 of 2 for no increased expenditure. Although this measure doesn’t lead to a direct reduction of homeless rates, resolving mental health issues and increasing the poorer population’s overall well-being is a key factor in ensuring that there is no more significant homelessness. For those reasons, their payoff for reducing homeless rates is 1 of 1. Hence, their total payoff is 2 of 4.

The homeless will receive better healthcare as well as improved mental health from this measure, despite their revolt, therefore, their payoff will be 1 of 1 and 1 of 1 respectively. Better sanitation isn’t addressed from this measure, as improved mental and physical health doesn’t impact the environment the homeless reside in. This measure also doesn’t give them shelter, so their payoff for this is 0 of 1. Hence, their total payoff from this outcome is 2 of 4.

Profit (BMC plays B, Homeless plays C)

If the government provides better healthcare to the homeless in the form of medication that has been prescribed, but the homeless choose to sell their medication or medicinal drugs to someone else or on the black market, this would be an example of the homeless profiting from the government extending better healthcare to them. The government’s payoff for no increased expenditure would be -2; they would land up spending heaps of money but the purpose they were looking to achieve would be disregarded, as the homeless didn’t comply with them. Such a measure doesn’t reduce the homeless rate in Mumbai, yielding a payoff of 0 of 1. Although the government would like to believe that they are providing better healthcare, they are actually causing more harm than good, as the drugs which they have prescribed will be likely given to the wrong people and will not be used how they are supposed to (payoff of -1). Hence, their total payoff for this outcome is -3.

As for the homeless, better healthcare would not translate into either improved sanitation or shelter, so their payoffs for sanitation and shelter are 0 of 1 and 0 of 1 respectively. If they decide to profit from the better healthcare that the government decides to provide and sell it, they themselves will not land up becoming healthier. Instead, this will result in them selling their drugs to the wrong people and it is more likely that there will be worse health issues than there were prior to government intervention. Hence, their payoff for healthcare (both mental and physical) will be -2. Thus, the homeless’ payoff for this outcome is -2.

Improvement of existing slum areas: The prevalence of slum areas in Mumbai hasn’t changed recently at all, and they are still some of the most unsanitary and inhumane conditions for a human to live in. Not only will the poor population start living in a far safer and healthier environment, but government intervention will also result in space for more people to live in. Slum areas are present all around Mumbai, with the city being home to the largest slum of Asia: Dharavi. 

Compliance (BMC plays C, Homeless plays A)

The BMC will need to compromise on (more than) one area of expenditure to pursue this measure, as there is plenty of work required for slum areas to be upgraded to where they need to be. This gives 0 of 2 points for no increased expenditure. The homeless rate will decrease with more space being created for the homeless to reside in across the city (1 of 1). Although this expenditure would result in a more sanitary environment, it doesn’t translate to better healthcare (0 of 1). Hence, the government’s total payoff for this measure is 1 of 4.

The homeless will most definitely receive better sanitation from the BMC’s undertaking of this measure, so their payoff for better sanitation is 1 of 1. With regard to receiving shelter, the fact that more space will be created would directly result in more homeless people in Mumbai receiving shelter (1 of 1). Mental health and physical health would most likely be bettered with the major improvements of the poorer and homeless populations’ environment, however, this is not a direct measure to improve their health. That said, taking into account the effect which this measure will indirectly have on their health, their payoff for mental health & physical health combined is 1 of 2. Hence, their total payoff is 3 of 4 for this measure.

Revolt (BMC plays C, Homeless plays B)

In the event that the homeless revolt because they don’t want the government to interfere with their slums for whatever reason, the government would not land up reducing the homeless rate as they would refrain from interfering (0 of 1). They would not land up spending additional money to do so, yielding a payoff for no additional expenditure of 2 of 2. They would also not land up providing better healthcare, yielding a payoff of 0 of 1. Hence, their total payoff for this outcome is 2 of 4. 

The homeless would not benefit from this outcome at all. They would not have better sanitation (0 of 1), they would not have more shelter (0 of 1), nor would their mental or physical health be altered (0 of 2). Hence, their total payoff for this outcome is 0 of 4.

Profit (BMC plays C, Homeless plays C)

In the event that the homeless accept the government’s offer to improve their existing slum areas and choose to profit from this (by conducting illegal operations here, converting their new & improved area into something that it was not meant for, renting it out to make money, etc), the government’s efforts to reduce the homeless rate would probably not be achieved (payoff of 0 of 1). They would land up spending money without accomplishing their set out goal and only indirectly causing more illegal operations, hence their payoff for no increased expenditure is -2, as it is a complete waste of money. Finally, this would not result in the BMC providing better or more accessible healthcare (0 of 1). Hence their total payoff from this outcome is -2

The homeless would land up receiving more shelter, however, there will likely not be much of a change when it comes to the homeless rate reduction. Be that as it may, their payoff for shelter is still 1 of 1. The improvements of their existing slums would result in a more sanitary environment, so the payoff for sanitation is 1 of 1 too. This would not result in any healthcare benefits for the homeless though, so the payoff for healthcare is 0 of 2. Hence, their total payoff from this outcome is 2 of 4.

 

A – Comply

B – Revolt

C – Profit

A – Free housing

( 2, 2 )

( 2 , 0 )

( -1 , 2 )

B – Better healthcare

( 2, 2 )

( 2 , 2 )

( -3 , -2 )

C – Improvement of Existing Slums

( 1 , 3 )

( 2 , 0 )

( -2 , 2 )

Dominance: The BMC’s option A (free housing) is dominating option B (better healthcare) ; The homeless‘ option A (compliance) dominates option C (choosing to profit). 

Nash Equilibrium: BMC constructs free housing and the homeless comply. (A, A)

Pareto Optimal: The Pareto Optimal is A, A (BMC constructs free housing and the homeless comply) and B, A (BMC extends better healthcare to the homeless, who comply)

Interpretation of the Matrix: From the matrix, we can see that the column in which both the BMC and the homeless population have positive payoffs. It isn’t realistic for the government to invest in reducing the homeless rate if they don’t get anything good out of it, especially a government that has shown to be corrupt as Mumbai’s. The homeless can react to each form of government intervention by revolting too, however, this doesn’t accomplish any good for them. Instead, the government’s payoff in column B for the homeless are actually better for the government, so their show of force by revolting would be in vain. Finally, they could choose to profit from the scenario, however, this is an unwise decision as their payoffs for their compliance dominate their payoffs for their choice to profit. On the other hand, it is most prudent for the government to go with free housing. Even if the homeless population decide to profit from this, the BMC isn’t as badly affected in comparison to their other intervention options. Furthermore, this option yields positive payoffs to the BMC for most cases.

Analyzing the Nash Equilibrium & Pareto Optimal Outcomes: For those of you that aren’t familiar with these terms, the Nash equilibrium and Pareto optimal outcomes are the scenarios that benefit both players best. The BMC’s construction of free housing with the homeless’ compliance is recurring in both the Nash Equilibrium and Pareto Optimal Outcome, implying that this is the most optimal pathway that should be taken from both the BMC and the homeless population’s perspective. The additional Pareto Optimal outcome is, yet again when the homeless comply and the BMC extends healthcare. A recurring theme – the homeless population’s compliance – shows that regardless of any efforts that the government may decide to take, it is imperative that the homeless accept this help.

FOR NOW RESPONSE: What is clear from the game theory strategies done above is the sheer importance of the homeless population accepting the BMC’s efforts to aid them. Where there’s a disconnect is the BMC’s lack of desire to reduce the homeless population in Mumbai. As a student that is more privileged than the majority of Mumbai’s inhabitants, my response is to utilize social media platforms that make people aware of the problems regarding homelessness in Mumbai. The encouragement of donations to non-profit organizations that work with the homeless is another step toward getting more people off the street. Coming from a school that is open-minded about community service, I could propose the inception of a community service club to work with homeless people in specific areas and medically aid them. Throwing fundraisers for the cause is another common, yet effective way of targeting this particular avenue. In order for Mumbai’s more privileged population to incentivize the BMC to invest in reducing homelessness, our voices must be heard on the Internet, through donation drives, recurring fundraisers, and various possible efforts that demonstrate the importance of the issue. Above all, the city expressing its empathy for the homeless population is what will eventually make an impact on the government’s priorities and will likely influence them to take substantial action.

CONCLUSION: From the game theory investigations conducted, it is clear that the homeless population’s compliance yields the best outcome for both the homeless as well as the government. One of the reasons why Mumbai’s homeless rate has remained unchanged for so long is because of the government’s passive approach to this problem. Living in Mumbai almost makes it seem as though homelessness is something that can’t be solved and will continue to carry on. Be that as it may, the homeless population’s compliance with governmental intervention in the form of free housing, better healthcare, and the improvement of existing slum areas are all ways in which the first step toward resolving homelessness in Mumbai can be taken. If one were to present one solution to this problem, it would be for the homeless to comply with the government investing in creating free houses. However, all listed forms of government intervention should be followed in order to eradicate homelessness from Mumbai.

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2 Comments
Aman_398

Aman_398

Adventurer, interested in financial markets, currently doing Game Theory with GOA.

2 comments

  1. Hello Aman!

    Having visited Mumbai multiple times, I have seen the mass of homelessness first hand. I really enjoyed reading your “the game” section in which you discussed the different possible outcomes of hypothetical situations. I also liked how you explained how the government has previously taken advantage of the homeless population as a campaign promise. I also think that your “for now response” had a lot of good ideas. I definitely think that social media could help a lot to raise awareness and to help to find organizations to fight the issues present.

  2. Aman, this is a fabulous project. I am so impressed with the way you and other students in your Game Theory course are applying Game Theory to real and enormous problems such as homelessness in Mumbai. I thought you explained the steps of decision-making and the resulting matrix very well! And what a huge problem to solve. . . . thank you for bringing it to the GOA community’s attention in this way.

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