Nights out in the cold again

As winter sets in again, night shelters for the destitute remain in a sorry state . So far in December, about 70 unidentified bodies, most of them believed to be of homeless people, have been found in the capital.

Either the shelter homes don’t have space or they are situated far off. So I prefer spending nights under the flyovers and if I am lucky, I can get a bonfire to keep myself warm in this cold weather,” says Lal Bahadur who spends nights under the Akshardham flyover.

“My work suffers if I go to a night shelter so we like to stay close to our workplace,” he adds.

NGOs working for the homeless say there is a dire need for more shelters, be they temporary tent shelters or porta cabins. They say the existing shelter homes don’t follow the National Urban Livelihood Mission’s norm of providing 50 square feet per person.

With the temperature plummeting a few notches in the past couple of days, the destitute are struggling to find shelter to prevent themselves from falling prey to the weather. In the coming weeks, it’s going to be worse.

“The two night shelters inaugurated by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal last week didn’t look like shelter homes at all. Why can’t all shelter homes be maintained like them?” says homeless Som Prakash, who went to Geeta Ghat to see the condition of the newly opened homes.

NGOs say hundreds of people can be seen sleeping in the open around All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), some take refuge on the Metro station premises, others can be seen braving the cold under at the bus stand.

Even Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia wrote to Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda to set up night shelter on the AIIMS premises as patients’ relatives are forced to spend nights in the open.

“We know that a huge population comprising patients’ relatives lives in the open in AIIMS. They don’t have the means to stay at lodge for so many days. So there is need to set up night shelter on the premises of AIIMS. The city government is willing to cooperate with the Centre to save homeless from succumbing to the cold. The city government’s endeavour can be fulfilled by your (Centre’s) support,” Sisodia said in the letter.

The city government only sprang into action after the temperature dipped and launched an app, Rain Basera, to relocate the homeless to the nearest shelter homes. Now, Delhiites are chipping in and playing their role in the rescue operation by taking pictures with their phones and posting them on the app. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), a government body to look after shelter homes, has deployed rescue teams which visit the spot and shift the needy to the rain baseras.

So far, 97 homeless people have been rescued, says the city government. Some 553 homeless people have been shifted to the nearest shelter home by 20 rescue teams from December 1 to 11, it adds.

“13 homeless rescued n brought to nite shelters on the basis of photos sent by people thro App. Together lets ensure no one dies of winter,” Kejriwal tweeted on December 8.
Though the DUSIB says it has set up 40 tent shelters apart from the already functioning 198 shelter homes, the moot question is whether every homeless person gets adequate space at the night shelters. The department has also arranged over 30,000 blankets to be distributed at these night shelters, and kept over 25,000 blankets as backup. The shelter homes have been also given some 14,000 durries and over 10,000 mats.

According to the DUSIB, around 19,000 people can be accommodated in these shelter homes. But the NGOs say only about 4,500 homeless people can be accommodated as per the guidelines of the National Urban Livelihood Mission's Scheme for Shelters for the Urban Homeless (NULM-SUH). The scheme recommends 50 square feet space per person, but this is blatantly ignored by the DUSIB.

Last year, under the Lieutenant Governor’s directions, the homeless were also given tea and rusks, but this year, the department is yet to decide on it.

“For us, the winter starts from December 15, subject to the dip in temperature. The department is in the process to take a decision on it,” says a DUSIB official. The NGOs say they have also identified the locations where more shelters are required.

In the House
The issue of homeless people also shook the Delhi Assembly’s winter session with the opposition claiming that 402 unidentified bodies had been found in Kashmere Gate area till then in November.

“The NGOs working for the cause claim that most of them are of the homeless population. There is a steep rise in the number of deaths of the homeless this year,” Leader of Opposition Vijender Gupta had said in the House.

On Thursday, two homeless men shivered to death in north Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. In all, at least 24 unidentified bodies have been found across the city since Monday, according to the figures compiled by an NGO.

So far, 69 unidentified bodies have been found in December, said the NGO on the basis of data procured from Zonal Integrated Police Network.

A total of 3,040 unidentified bodies have been found so far this year in the city. Most of them are believed to be homeless.

Aam Aadmi Party MLA Alka Lamba reiterated in Delhi Assembly that the homeless die because they are victims of substance abuse. The NGOs working for the cause say out of the total 32 city-run drug de-addiction centres, only three are functional.

According to NGOs, there are over 1.5 lakh homeless people across the city, while the Delhi government survey in 2014 managed to locate just over 16,000 destitute people on the streets in Delhi. The 2011 census found 46,724 homeless people in Delhi.

Every winter, the DUSIB promises to provide hot water at night shelters across the city, but its priority shifts to relocating homeless to the nearest shelter homes. Inadequate water supply and electricity, lack of space, delayed distribution of blankets are among the shortcomings that highlight the sorry state of affairs at the night shelters.

So, many destitute people have no choice but to bear the biting cold weather in the open.

“We want to spend our night close to our workplace as we will starve if we don’t work daily. So we spend our nights in the open,” says Prakash, a daily wager.

But officials with DUSIB say they are working round the clock to make sure the homeless population gets better facilities at night shelters.

An official said the department has set up a 24-hour control room at the DUSIB office at ITO to receive information about homeless people. The helpline numbers are 011-23378789, 8527898295 and 8527898296.

The NGOs are also pushing for functional toilets for the destitute.

They say there are no dedicated shelters for the disabled homeless, especially those who move about on their tricycles. Even their vehicles get stolen from city’s night shelters.

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