Has saved scores of poor patients and families from struggling in the open

For outstation patients at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here and their relatives used to sleeping out in the open while waiting for OPD consultation and treatment, January 13 this year had a pleasant surprise in store. A night shelter, which was opened that wintry day by the hospital authorities in collaboration with civil society following court orders, has provided refuge to a whopping 75,000 people so far.

“Many of the patients and their relatives spend anything from a few days to a few weeks at the shelter waiting for the OPD consultation and treatment to get over. So this figure of 75,000 also includes people who have stayed on for multiple days here,” says Nitesh Kumar, programme coordinator for the Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM), the NGO running the shelter since its inception.

“Great comfort”

Swayam Saran Singh and his wife Malati from Lakhisarai district in Bihar, who had come to AIIMS for their five-year-old son’s treatment, are leaving after spending two days at the shelter. “Our visit to AIIMS last time on January 13 was really lucky for us as the shelter too opened that day. Cold and tired, we were wondering where to stay when we heard of this shelter. We stayed for a month for the treatment then. We would not have managed to survive the winter and the difficulties of getting treatment for our son if not for the comfort this shelter offered us,” Ms. Singh says, happiness writ large on her face.

The utility of the shelter, which was initially opened just for winter months, is attested by the occupancy rates even in summer. If the daily average occupancy in January and February was 370-380, it has continued to be steady with July and August recording 340 people staying there daily.

Inmates are registered for stay at the shelter based on their OPD card issued by AIIMS. Up to three relatives are also allowed to stay with the patient at the 6,500 square feet shelter.

Though the shelter was meant to operate only for the winter months, intervention of courts has ensured its continuity beyond. SPYM has also tied up with ISKCON to provide food at dinner time for the inmates.

Mohammed Ateeq from Madhubani in Bihar has been staying at the shelter for three days, while waiting for the next consultation with his son’s doctor. “Staying at a hotel in Delhi is not an option for us poor people. Sleeping in the open is fraught with the risk of belongings getting stolen. Here we feel safe and we get by without emptying our pockets of our precious little money. This is a boon for us,” says Mr. Ateeq, whose son is suffering from a liver disease.

Though there are no signages advertising the existence of the shelter, a good number of people seek out the shelter every day, thanks to word-of-mouth publicity. As inmates leave the facility for their homes, they can be seen profusely thanking the caretaker, Danish Ali. One man, Mukesh Kumar, has a problem. His sister’s husband needs a blood transfusion for an operation scheduled for November 24. Nitesh asks him to put in a written request with Danish before leaving and assures him that the NGO will arrange it for him.

With another winter beckoning, Nitesh says that space has become a constraint at the shelter. “AIIMS should think of making the present shelter a permanent fixture here. It would be great if they could earmark some more land on the campus for another night shelter. As you can see, several more people sleep in the open here. Who would not like to sleep in a proper shelter?” he asks.

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