On a cold December night a few days ago, I walked a narrow and pebbled passage way that headed to a group of homeless people sitting around a campfire at a night shelter near Delhi’s Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. Helpless, they fought the furious cold weather of Delhi in their scant apparels.
I was part of a group of students who took part in a Jamia initiative called ‘Night Walk in the streets of Delhi’ to witness the plight of the homeless and interact with them in person. A team of 42 students and three faculty members went to Jantar Mantar, where we visited temporary night shelters erected near Bangla Sahab Gurudwara in Connaught Place.
We just somehow pass the cold and windy nights under tattered and holed quilts, said Avinash, one of the night shelter residents there. You yourself must be realising the need of attaining warmth in your body, he added, rubbing his palms together.
Made homeless by misfortune, life for them is indeed a struggle for existence.
Each year, many such people in the country die during the intense cold weather. But it’s not just the lack of some physiological needs which claims their precious life. Can you imagine a person living in a well-built house fighting biting cold in contrast to another man who somehow survives on the footpath, without any shelter? No doubt, the situation differs from person to person, but night shelters are choice of last resort for the homeless people.
The motive behind establishing these shelters is to provide a proper place with a bare minimum facility to fight the cold. It proves to be a bane to the millions of homeless people. Even the thought of spending a night without adequate clothing to protect a person from chilly winter winds is unthinkable for the lucky ones who have a shelter during the winter season.
During the peak of winter, a temporary shelter is of course a boon for any homeless. But at the same time, it can also have some negative consequences. A place where the needy arrive to spend frozen nights may unintentionally attract anti-social elements who use the anonymity these shelters provide to hide themselves. It becomes a safe hide-out to escape the eyes of the law.
No doubt these night shelters are serving the interests of the needy but this would also require some intervention from men in uniform to avoid any mishap.
In collaboration with the locals, a few NGOs are working for the welfare of the homeless, but unfortunately, their efforts are not sufficient enough due to an enormous number of homeless people.
In Delhi itself, there are 64 permanent and 86 temporary shelters maintained by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) but they can accommodate only 12,000 people. While the estimated number of homeless in the capital ranges from 67,000 to 150,000.
During the winter season last year, the death toll of homeless people was 300, according to a report by the “Mother NGO for Homeless.” This reflects the condition of the homeless in our city. And yet, there exists only an empty promise from the concerned authorities whose job it is to take care of them.