175 shelters, yet nowhere to go

175 shelters, yet nowhere to go

Squatting in a sunlit corner on the roadside, Jeeta, a ragpicker, plays with her two cherubic daughters and a son. Hailing from Barabanki district in Lucknow, this family of five which migrated to Delhi a year ago, has found shelter in the most unlikely of place or space, (call it what you will) – a road divider under a flyover at Sarai Kale Khan!

There are around three Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) shelters in the vicinity, then why do they and their companions brave Delhi’s harsh winter out in the open?

“It’s not a matter of choice; we tried but there’s no more place available in the shelter,” says Jeeta while the caretaker at the shelter across the road, Arun Kumar, explains, “We can only accommodate a maximum of 40 people in this shelter. There is a group of 32 living here at present, I can only stretch the limit and adjust 10 to 15 more but there are way too many people living under the flyover.”

Unleashing its fury, the extreme weather conditions allegedly took a toll on these homeless persons and two of them were found dead on Nigambodh Ghat on January 1. In the wake of this, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal directed the Sub Divisional Magistrates to carry out night surveys and table a report by January 4 to construct 45 new porta cabin shelters in the city. But would these measures help in relieving the misery of the 1.5 lakh homeless inhabiting the City?

 “Why is night shelter only a matter of crisis or emergency?” asks Sanjay Kumar, co-director of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan. “It’s only in this period of three months, specially between December 15 to January 15, that the media and Government makes night shelters an issue of national importance,” he complains, adding, “It is insensitive of media to ask a homeless living under the open sky, that ‘do you feel cold?’, just as a
kneejerk reaction after a mis­hap happens on the streets.”

Indu Prakash Singh, an executive committee member of Shahri Adhikar Manch: Be­gharon Ke Saath, says, “For instance there are three shelters for homeless in Dwarka but these are inaccessible to them as they are too far for the people who work in the unorganised sector inside the city. All that they want is a place close by to return to at the end of the day.”  He suggests, “Shelters should be created and classified under categories such as shelters for recovery, for women and children and for the disabled.”

Sanjay laments that “For every night shelter in the city, be it a three storey tall shelter or a cramped 10 x 10 room, the financial assistance rema­ins Rs 35,000, invariably. Wa­sn’t it then only a gimmick to increase the number of shelters on paper, while not doing enough for the homeless?”

As reported, there are 45 new locations enlisted by his NGO which are under consideration for the building of new shelters by the Delhi Government.  “Stick to the basics and get them security, sanitation, lockers, bedding and blankets along with a bit of entertainment,” suggests Sanjay who runs 13-14 shelters in the city along with mobilisation teams that work with homeless living under the open sky.

In the middle of this debate for existence and a place to call home, Nagender, an auto driver living in an all-men temporary night shelter at Asaf Ali road seems to be a happy man, pointing, “It seems our night shelter will get a tin roof soon, just like the permanent shelter next to us.”

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