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296 shelter homes in Delhi, but many spending chilly nights on footpaths

🔴 The original capacity is 19,734, while the revised capacity (revised after mattresses on the floor were replaced by beds) is 9,100. The report shows 7,927 beds were occupied as on December 28.

296 shelter homes in Delhi, but many spending chilly nights on footpathsHomeless people seen at Sarai Kale Khan. (Gayathri Mani)

Despite 296 shelters, with over 9,000 beds, hundreds of homeless people continue to spend their nights on sidewalks and footpaths across the national capital – with reasons ranging from proximity to hospitals where they are seeking treatment to not finding enough room at the shelters.

For instance, Anurag, a 32-year-old daily wager from Prayagraj, spent Tuesday night with his elderly father at AIIMS subway. “My father has stage IV cancer and needs injections five days a week. We could not secure a bed in AIIMS or in the night shelter tents nearby. I enquired at two-three places but all were full. My father cannot walk long distances, so we are taking shelter here,” he said.

Not far from the father-son duo was Anwari, who is suffering from liver disease. “I have been taking shelter in this subway for the last three years as I have to get dialysis frequently. There are no big hospitals back in Saharanpur,” she said. Asked why she did not seek refuge in a night shelter, she said, “My daughter went to look but the beds are full. Also, there are very few tents and shelter homes for women.”

The 40-year-old said people from an NGO provide them two meals a day but finding clean toilet facilities remains a struggle.

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The subway, supposed to be used for pedestrian crossing, is occupied by dozens of people, most of whom are here for treatment in AIIMS or Safdarjung hospital.

The Indian Express  visited permanent as well as porta cabin shelters at Kashmere Gate, Nigam Bodh Ghat, Hanuman Mandir, Yamuna Bazaar, AIIMS and Sarai Kale Khan, and found that some lacked basic amenities such as light fittings, toilets and water.

Though the shelters provide beds, mattresses, pillows and blankets, cleanliness remains a concern at several places. With shelters lacking ample space, maintaining social distancing too remains a difficult task.

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Rihanna, a 15-year-old girl at the Sarai Kale Khan shelter home, said, “I was born and brought up in the area. My family lives here in a permanent one but some of us have been shifted to tents. Earlier, we used to sleep on the ground but now they have provided us with a bed, mattress and blanket. There are issues of safety at night and lack of toilet facilities for women and children, but we are managing. We will shift from here after the winters.”

Salma stays with a daughter and a three-month-old boy at the shelter near CP’s Hanuman Mandir. “Toilets are not in a good condition; rest everything is fine. We are getting food three times a day,” she said.

Mukesh Kumar, who lives with his family of five, including a six-year-old boy, at the busy ramps of Sarai Kale Khan ring road, said they want to shift to night shelters but find it unsafe.

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“People consume drugs and drink inside the tents and it is not safe for women. It is just a matter of a month; we will adjust,” he said. Nearby, a 68-year-old from Ferozpur in UP said he tried getting a bed at shelter in Kashmere Gate but was told it’s full.

According to the occupancy report of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), there are 296 shelter homes, including four isolation centres. The original capacity is 19,734, while the revised capacity (revised after mattresses on the floor were replaced by beds) is 9,100. The report shows 7,927 beds were occupied as on December 28. Soon, the DUSIB will add 60 new temporary shelter homes. DUSIB member Bipin Rai said 60 more tents will be installed at several locations across the city by the end of this week. “About 1,200 beds will be added then and DUSIB is also working to rehabilitate homeless people to shelter homes. The problem is that despite many efforts, people do not want to stay in shelter homes. They just refuse to come or will sneak out from the tents and sleep on footpaths. Secondly, many people seen sleeping on footpaths comes from Rajasthan, MP, UP and nearby states for just  20 days from December 25 to January 15 days because during this time, people donate food, money, clothes to the homeless.”

Rai acknowledged there is a lack of space near AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital since the DUSIB can only install tents on PWD land. “We have space issue outside AIIMS. It is responsibility of the hospital to provide beds or another facility for visitors or family members to stay. We have written to the authority to give us space for temporary tents or a place where we can construct a permanent building or homes for patients and people sleeping on roads and footpaths,” he said.

First published on: 30-12-2021 at 02:45:19 am
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