With temperatures in Delhi dropping to 4°C on the coldest day of the season so far, we who live in snug homes can only imagine how bad it can get for the homeless. But Dwarka is witnessing a strange phenomenon. The homeless — seen sleeping near bus stands, under the Palam flyover, under the overhead Metro route or simply on footpaths — prefer to sleep out in the freezing cold than take refuge at night shelters.
According to sources, there are night shelters in Sector 1, Sector 3, Sector 12, Sector 10 and Sector 15 in Dwarka. There are also two shelters located near the Sector 12 and Sector 10 Metro stations.
Ramesh Mumukshu, a social worker and a resident of Ashirvad Apartments in Sector 16, has an answer. “These two shelters can accommodate about 70-80 people at a time," he says. "But night shelters are not the place for homeless women and families, as conditions are pathetic there. There is a women's night shelter in JJ colony, Sector 3, but it has such an obscure location that women avoid it. It also has an all-male staff, where there should be female caretakers and guards. That's another reason this shelter is of no use to homeless women."
"The problem is two-pronged, really," he adds. "First, there are not enough night shelters — there are 5,000 homeless people in Dwarka, and the number of shelters is not even close to what is required. Secondly, the few night shelters there are, are maintained so poorly that the homeless avoid sleeping there.”
Backing Mumukshu's point, Sunita Yadav, a resident of Arunoday Apartments (Sector 7) and president of Moksha Foundation, an NGO working to educate the children of rickshaw pullers and homeless migrants, says, “I have seen people sleeping near the traffic signal at the intersection of sectors 2, 3, 5 and 6. Many families can be seen living in temporary shelters of tarpaulin or plastic. There is a definite lack of shelters that can accommodate families or female members separately.”
The homeless can be seen sleeping in vacant spaces such as near Metro corridors, near the Madhu Vihar slip road, on footpaths in Rajapuri Chowk, near the Sector 9 Metro station and in parks in sectors 6, 21, 7 and 3. Most of them are migrant labourers with families and children.
A homeless person sleeps under a bus shelter near Ashirvad Apartments in Sector 12
Shaym Lal, a rickshaw puller, says, “I am from Darbhanga, in Bihar, and work here. I spend my nights under Palam flyover. There is no night shelter in the area. I don’t want to go to the existing night shelters, as they are very unhygienic. I've seen drug addicts in these places. I wouldn't feel safe there.”
Rekha Jhingan, a resident of Peepal Apartments in Sector 18 and founder of Sahaj Sambhav, a social organisation that works to rehabilitate drug addicts, says, “Addicts are one of the primary reasons why most of the homeless avoid going to night shelters. Authorities should include local social organisations and RWAs to improve the condition of such shelters and to rehabilitate drug addicts.”
“According to Census 2011, there are 46,000 homeless people in Delhi. But according to studies and surveys of different organisations working in the field, the number of homeless in Delhi is more than 1.6 lakh. In Delhi, there are 262 night shelters with a capacity to accommodate 22,000. According to surveys, only 14,000 people [11,000 at night and 3,000 during the day] use these shelters,” says Sanjay Kumar, co-founder of Ashraya Adhikar Abhiyan, an NGO.
He believes there is a need to build trust among the homeless. "There are a number of shelters coming up, and several initiatives are being undertaken to instil faith in them, but they have to be reached out to,” he adds.
Anyone living in any unstructured place is said to be homeless, according to the government of India and the United Nations. In Delhi, the homeless are mainly the unemployed and the daily-wage labourers, who come from rural Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.