It’s that cold time of the year again. At below 10° C, debates simmer on whether homeless people are smelly statistics or a stiff housing problem. But for those curling under their tight tents, a shelter space provided is a life potentially saved.
Deep suspense over puris and sabzi
By Shalini Narayan
It’s 9.30 pm on a Friday and 38-year-old Dinesh has been standing by the roadside, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the white van that brings puri and aloo ki sabzi. With him stand a hundred others, tired after the day’s scavenging. Some earned their bit for the day, others went pennyless. Food was their only chance left in the day. But after two hours of waiting by the footpath, there is still no sign of puris or sabzi. The food may not come tonight.
This is just another day’s suspense at the Yamuna Pushta night shelter in Central Delhi.
Dinesh has been visiting the shelter for three years. He knows the bedtime drill. By the time he arrives, a long queue is already waiting outside the seven tents and porta cabins. Entry is on a first-come-first-served basis. One by one, men are allowed inside, handed over blankets and given a space just enough to allow them to sleep straight. Desperate as they are to have a roof over their heads, occasional fights erupt. Sometimes, police have to come and drive away a few cranky ones. But Dinesh always stays outside. “I never go in. They carry diseases. Most of them are alcoholics and haven’t bathed in months. I will fall sick if I go in there,” he says. Dinesh manages a blanket for himself and settles on a patch of grass just outside the tent.
A native of Rajasthan, Dinesh arrived in the city 10 years ago and worked as an auto-rickshaw driver. Most of his earnings went as rent, leaving him just enough to barely make ends meet. Soon, he fell ill. Unable to report to work everyday, he lost his job. He now begs for a living.
“The first few times I came here, I slept inside the tent. But at night, someone would either trample over my foot or create a ruckus. It’s hell inside there. The drunkards come and vomit all over the place. If we ask them to go out, they pull out knives threatening to attack us. So I sleep outside,” he says.
The shelters have no eating facility. The only source of food is when volunteers pay a visit. If food is erratic, water is a bigger problem.
The Yamuna Pushta night shelter is run by Child Watch India and came up about eight years ago. A tent is the newest shelter added to the existing six. Each night shelter has room for 40. There is one toilet located behind the shelter. But few like using it. Located in an area where the lighting is poor, the area is prone to attacks and thefts.
Rajesh Kumar, the caretaker of the shelter, says, “Most of the visitors here are from UP and Bihar. The place is closed for an hour in the morning and the evening for cleaning. We open at 5 pm and people are asked to leave by 8 am the next day. On Sundays, we allow them to sleep longer, till about 9 pm. We accept all, from beggars to drug-addicts to a daily-wage worker.”
Sunil Kumar Aledia, member, Centre for Holistic Development, an organisation working for the homeless in Delhi, however, says, “They say they provide facilities. But the situation is different on the ground… Those who come to these shelters are stuffed into the tents, sometimes without blankets. At least 70 people are stuffed inside a shelter meant for 40. No medical check-ups are done. If one infected person comes in, his blanket is unwashed and repeatedly used by several others. In January this year, a man was found lying near the shelter, dead, his body having been eaten up by rats. We discovered the body even though the place is surrounded by beggars and passers by.”
In death, as in life, they go unnoticed.
Salman, the survivor, doing fine
By Naveed Iqbal
A baby (in picture) lies on the floor in a porta cabin, wrapped in the thin blanket provided by the caretaker of the homeless shelter where his mother lives. Four nights ago, Aabida delivered him on the road outside the shelter without any doctor or even a dear one nearby. The women in the shelter, nearly 30 of them, debate what to call him. “We should call him Salman, like the actor,” one says.
It’s been four days and neither the mother, nor the child has been to the hospital and the visiting doctor only gave the baby a tetanus shot. Riyasat Ali, who heads the shelter home, says they should call him Asad after mentioning a verse from the Quran.
Run in porta cabins outside the Jama Masjid, the shelter houses families, men and women from different parts of the country. One of the cabins is exclusively for women.
The women’s cabin has a capacity of approximately 50 but houses 209. “We try and accommodate as many as we can. It is better than sleeping outside in the cold,” Ruksana, the caretaker, says. There is no guard, no toilets, no hot water or any emergency health kits. Riyasat says the police do rounds of the area and, if needed, are called in. The women work as ragpickers or depend on others’ charity at traffic signals during the day. The children stay back and an NGO worker comes to teach during the day.
Greater effort but numbers too tall
By Mayura Janwalkar
Days after Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung said the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board — the body that provides night shelters to the homeless — must cater to more numbers than required, the DUSIB said it was prepared to accommodate about 16,000 people.
In a status report submitted to the Lt-Governor on Monday, DUSIB said it had provided for 187 shelters. Of these, 85 are permanent shelters that can house 9,104 people and 102 are porta cabins with a capacity to house 5,480 people.
Additionally, DUSIB said 18 canvas tents had been put up to cater to 400 people. The biggest, at AIIMS, can accommodate 100. The DUSIB is in the process of getting three new porta cabins — two at Dandi Park and one at Sarai Kale Khan — which it said should be ready in a month. The report also said DUSIB had decided to put up three more tents at Yamuna Pushta and two more at the Ayurvedic factory behind Hanuman Mandir, Yamuna Pushta. These will be put up in about 15 days.
DUSIB has also converted 10 community halls into shelters. Together, they will accommodate nearly 700 people and are likely to be operational in about 10 days.
Speaking of the 24×7 control room at Punarvas Bhawan near ITO, DUSIB director Kamal Malhotra said it would take another couple of days to finish furnishing it. It will function from December 1 to March 31, 2015.
Malhotra said if a call is received from a shelter, the agency running the shelter will be informed by the control room. “If a homeless person is found on the street, the agency working in that area will pick that person up. We can’t force someone to come to a night shelter. So if someone refuses, the NGO will give that person a bubble-sheet for protection from the cold,” Malhotra said.
At a November 22 meeting, chaired by Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, DUSIB said it had written to South Municipal Corporation to earmark a space for shelters and hand it over to the board. “The issue of providing shelters for people who come to AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital for treatment was discussed with the director of AIIMS. He has agreed to provide space for a tent where at least 100 patients/attendants can be accommodated. The superintendent engineer of AIIMS also assured that a new shelter with a capacity of 250 people is being constructed on the campus and will be functional in the next 20 days,” the status report on the meeting said.
Further, DUSIB has designated 19 shelters for women. “These shelters will have CCTV cameras and floodlights,” Malhotra said.
In a recent meeting chaired by the
L-G, which was also attended by the DDA vice-chairman, it was decided that land would be made available to the DUSIB at Re 1 as licence fee. While the DDA will continue to own the land, it will be transferred to DUSIB for construction of shelters. Malhotra said DUSIB has taken possession of nine plots and six other locations will be handed over in 15 days.
The DUSIB has also distributed 24,000 blankets in 184 night shelters.
In a meeting on November 28, Jung told the DUSIB that from December 10, tea and rusk should be served to the homeless every morning at the expense of the Delhi government. He also directed that buses should not used as shelters.
“Buses have a limitation. They cannot be closed fully or made wind-proof. They also occupy more space and metal gets colder fast,”
A toilet break that can break the spirit
By Shalini Narayan
At the Lodhi Road night shelter are two porta cabins. While one cabin is women-only, the other accommodates families. Here, most visitors are from UP, Bihar and Bengal. By 11 pm, all those here for the night are settled in.
Located near the Sai Baba temple, the place is surrounded by children and labourers, all of whom manage their meals with food from the temple.
“We usually allow only our regular visitors to come here. The women have their children to take care of. We can’t drive them away. So we don’t follow the system of first-come-first-serve,” Akash Aman, caretaker of the night shelter run by NGO Prerna, says.
As people settle in, the problems within begin to reveal themselves. Blankets lie stacked in the corner with rats under them. Bibi Aisha, who is one of the visitors for the night, barely moves. There is no facility for water. Dogs gather outside for bits of food lying about. Children play around, oblivious to the many health hazards surrounding them.
As night falls, women try and sneak out for toilet breaks without toilets. “The only toilet located nearby shuts by 10 pm and opens only at 8 am. We can’t go out alone, so we have to be accompanied by at least two other women,” Maha Devi, a beggar and mother of six, says.
Aman admits there is a problem. He says, “We are trying to get a toilet here. There is no security but how much can we do?”
“There are 14 night shelters for women in the city, including at Jama Masjid and Karol Bagh. The situation is the same everywhere. There is no security for them. The idea is to give them free lodging for the night but they are either charged money or driven away. And when they have no place to go, they become victims of sexual assaults,” Sunil Kumar Aledia, member, Centre for Holistic Development, an organisation working for the homeless in Delhi, says.
“Statistics show that there are more deaths in summer than in winter. The porta cabins that have been constructed heat up during the summer and they become uninhabitable. The deaths are mostly due to dehydration.”