Why Homeless People in Delhi Opt to Sleep Rough Over Shelter Homes Despite Cold Weather?
15:09 GMT 09.12.2021 (Updated: 10:40 GMT 19.07.2022)
Every year from 7 November to 15 March, a winter action plan is implemented in Delhi – the city government is supposed to provide shelter, food, and basic amenities to the homeless in the Indian capital.
As the weather becomes colder in Delhi, homeless people are turning to the city's government-run shelter homes. But not everyone is lucky to find a place in these makeshift facilities.
A 46-year-old man allegedly died of hypothermia in north Delhi's Narela area this week. He worked at a rice mill and was sleeping outside. He was found dead on Tuesday morning.
"We received a Police Control Room (PCR) call around 9 am that a body was lying near the Narela-Bawana Road. The man died of cold. There were no visible injuries. His phone and Aadhaar card were found in his pocket," Brijendra Yadav, a senior Delhi Police officer, told Sputnik.
Every year thousands of homeless migrants
arrive in Delhi with the hope of a better life. Most of them sleep on the streets because they can't afford a room.
As per the city government, there are only 16,000 homeless people, however, this figure is disputed by many experts. The number of homeless people in Delhi stands at 150,000-200,000, of whom at least 10,000 are women, according to the non-profit advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network.
"Every year, around 3,000 unclaimed dead bodies are found on the streets of Delhi. These numbers rise during extreme summer and winter nights," Sunil Kumar Aledia, the founder of the Centre for Holistic Development, an NGO working on housing Delhi's homeless, said.
"In a general estimate, one percent of the city's total population is homeless. As per the estimates of UN World Population
Prospects, Delhi population in 2021 is 30.5 million," Aledia said.
What's Wrong With Delhi's Shelter Homes?
There are three kinds of shelter homes in Delhi; two types are run by the government and another category is operated by private organisations but funded by the government.
As per government officials, there are presently 209 shelter homes with a capacity to accommodate about 16,660 people. During winter, the government increases the number of beds in these shelter houses. However, many of these people still prefer to sleep on the streets.
Asked why they opt to sleep outside rather than in the shelter homes, Jeetendra Kumar, a worker in South Delhi, said, "First, even the nearest shelter home to me is at least three-four kilometres away. And who will tell me where to go? Second, I have no idea which is the nearest shelter home in this area. Who will fetch us? Moreover, most of the times shelter homes are not clean. When I was working around Kashmiri Gate (Delhi's prominent interstate bus terminal), we had to reach at the shelter house on time to secure one bed or else someone had to adjust. Or, we would end up sleeping at the roadside or under the flyovers."
In extreme winter conditions, we manage things with a bonfire," he added.
While listing various reasons that compel many individuals to sleep on the sidewalk, Aledia said the main reason is that people running these shelter homes are rude and bossy.
While visiting a women's shelter home in Old Delhi, near the Jama Masjid area, people staying there complained about poor sanitation.
"Technically, we have two washrooms in this shelter home for over 200 women, but, sadly, the condition of both is terrible," Nushrat Jahaan, a woman in her late 40s, told Sputnik.
Sputnik visited two other shelter homes, one in central Delhi near Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and the other in the Sarai Kale Khan area – almost every woman complained about the washrooms.
"To take a bath, we have to deploy two other women outside as the guard," Sapna, a woman living near Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, said.
Human Rights Commission Takes Note of Abysmal Conditions
Hours after the dead body was found in Narela, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) visited a shelter home near Turkman Gate, New Delhi and sent a notice to the city government complaining about "the abysmal infrastructure of the shelter home," which it said is "overcrowded with no proper beds and mattresses provided, no water supply and the washroom is unclean."
While the homeless say the government needs to do more, the administration said that it's doing all it can to improve the situation.
However, Anjali Singh Kulkarni, a public health specialist and adjunct associate professor at the Public Health Foundation of India
, argued that "considering the need to work at the ground reality, the government has to do more than merely making the announcement, building shelters and inaugurating them."
"It has to ensure proper execution to tackle the problems at the root cause and continue working endlessly towards fulfilling its promises," she added.