Raen Basera In Delhi: Providing shelters to the homeless

A numbing cold continuing to sweep Delhi- NCR, the region recorded its second coldest December since 1901. The mean maximum temperature was 19.15 degrees Celsius. Most parts of the city have witnessed 13 consecutive cold days or a 13-day cold spell. A severe cold day is when the maximum temperature is at least 6.5 degrees Celsius below normal.

According to DUSIB (Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board), the homeless in the capital are migrants who come here, particularly from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Odisha, for work. “When there are thriving opportunities, they live on the streets. When there is less work, they move to other states,” said a member of DUSIB.

The low census count is attributed to the difficulties of counting those without a permanent house or the fact that the census data on homelessness exclude those such as construction laborers who sleep where they work.

Temporary night shelter filled to maximum capacity near Sarai Kale Khan.    

It is well said, “Delhi now belonged to everyone who lived in it. But no one belonged to Delhi.” People who land in Delhi in search of jobs are compelled to live in open; many of them are forced to lead a life as non-citizens. Problems are compounded by the social exclusion they face from public and administration as being unhygienic and at times criminal as well.

These kinds of perceptions lead to missed opportunities in fields of jobs, and education leaving them susceptible to exploitation. Greater prevalence of risky sexual behavior and addiction is usually seen. Contrary to popular perception about the homeless, they show a considerable contribution to the economy of India.

Delhi Government said, “We have launched an app also, to make sure no one dies of cold or sleep on streets in open. This app helps in locating homeless people and rescuing them during winters. Any user can download the app and inform DUSIB about the location of the homeless person. Then, the nearest rescue team approaches the location as soon as they can. After the rescue operation is done, the user is sent an update regarding the same.”

Government and NGO officials maintain records at shelter to ensure safety and security.

According to an official report of DUSIB , “This year, since November 15, 17 rescue teams operating in Delhi have received 82 complaints and shifted 4946 people to shelters. However, 27 people refused to move.”

Though the number of night shelters has increased over the last couple of years, there are only a few permanent structures. The problem is the unavailability of space in Central Delhi. Lands for new shelters are offered in Outer Delhi or West Delhi, where there are hardly any homeless.

Over the last nine years, the Delhi government has set up 205 additional night shelters. As a part of its Winter Action Plan, Government claims to equip its night shelters running out of permanent structures with TV sets and geysers. DUSIB officials also claim that 43 permanent shelters reserved for women and families are fitted with CCTV cameras.

At a night shelter in Kabir Basti in North Delhi, people were sleeping on durries spread directly on the floor, without any bed or mattress. Toilets were too dirty and stinky to use. Suresh, a 14-year-old boy, who hails from Darbhanga, Bihar, said, “I work in a nearby Dhaba. We get food from there or sometimes from Bhandara of temples.”

No facilities of bed and mattress at a permanent shelter for men in Kabir Basti.

Caretaker Dilip told that they maintain a proper record of people living there. They only provide them bedding, blankets and toilets, not food. “The capacity here is of 100 individuals. Tonight there are only 54. This night shelter is attached with Rachna Foundations.”

At the shelter, 12 years old, Preeti said, “I live here with my mother. She works in a construction site. I sell stickers, hairclips on the footpath.”

Safety at shelters

Women’s Night shelter at Malkagunj was comparatively clean, having beds with mattresses. “I’ve been living here for the last 6 months. I’m from Kerala. I came to Delhi in search of jobs. But due to falling health conditions, I was unable to get one. I feel safe here. I’m sure I’ll get a job soon,” said Ranjitha, a 25-year-old young girl.

Caretaker Neelam is so fond of Ranjitha. She said, “I’ve been working here for the last two years. Some women are abandoned by their families, as they’ve mental issues.”

At a shelter, kids getting ready for their routine. Ranjitha, 25-year-old girl from Kerala living at a shelter.

The permanent night shelter near Old Delhi Railway Station was over occupied to its capacity. Pawan Kumar (22) said “I am from Ghazipur. I ran away from my home, five years ago, in summers. Initially, I slept on the streets near the railway station then I shifted in this shelter last year. I’ve worked at many places like tea stalls, parking areas, etc. Currently, I’m working in a restaurant. I usually get food there.”

Caretaker Iqbal said, “The area in the neighborhood is unsafe. We’ve to be very careful. Although there is a CCTV camera we don’t trust anyone.”

At a portacabin in Sarai Kale Khan lives Raghu. He said, “I get something to eat from temples. I stay here only at night. My family is in Meerut. I send them money earned by rickshaw pulling.”

50 years old Leela Devi talks little but shares her fear. She said in an inaudible voice, “It is tough for women to spend nights on streets, even in summer. Local men trouble us, no place is safe.” She left her house after her husband died and sons started ill-treating her.

After leaving her house Leela Devi living at a shelter in Old Delhi.

Preferring streets over night shelters

DUSIB runs overnight rescue operations but many people refused to move from their places. There are lots of people who denied spending nights in shelters.

Asim, who is from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, said, “I don’t have an Adhaar card. So they refused to let me in. That’s why I sleep here in open. It’s hard to manage in rains. Someone donated this blanket to me.”

Shakeela and her 3 children prefer to sleep near Jama Masjid as they don’t feel safe in shelter homes. She said, “I have heard about rape incidents in shelters. I’m afraid to go there.

I’ve three daughters and they are so naïve. They don’t understand good and bad. I can’t leave them alone in shelters.”

Caretaker Shivam said, “It is very common, people refusing to move in shelters. If anyone tries to take them to shelters, they got angry. We had to record these incidents to prove that we are not making the incidents up.”

People choosing streets to sleep are not only afraid of being ill-treated but also of getting infected from any serious disease. Some are prejudice about shelters having no proper security and safety. Many homeless have accepted streets as their homes and have a sense of possession for it, leading to this perception they don’t want to leave it for anything.

A caretaker at the shelter accepted the fact that there were incidents of drunken men troubling women at the shelter, but that was ‘over many years ago’.

According to DUSIB, “Homeless people keep wares that they sleep next to. They are afraid of the night shelters because they are worried that someone might steal their wares.”

Homeless people also suffer unavoidable biased towards them. Doctors ignore them until there is no other patient left. Officials explain the situation as it is due to over­population, it is hard to monitor.

During winters, sometimes unidentified bodies are found in Delhi’s streets. Officials admit that it is impossible to segregate that how many of them were homeless. They put ads but no one claims most of the bodies. Thus, they cremate bodies within three to four days.

People quickly joining India’s homeless population are the migrants looking for employment and better living standards. Government and NGOs are helping to relieve the homelessness crisis in India; these are not enough to solve the entire problem.

The government has to look for new ways to curb out this major issue. Schemes and policies are not enough until they are in a regular check. More awareness about safety and security needs to be created among homeless individuals.

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