As the Capital debates over how big or small the Chief Minister’s house should be, the homeless here are struggling to have even a tarpaulin roof over their heads.

The Hindu reporting team visited several shelters during the intervening night of Thursday and Friday and came across many persons sleeping under the open sky who were somehow trying to keep themselves warm with whatever they could claim to be theirs. Tattered blankets was all they had wrapped themselves in and the biting cold the reporter felt during the tour across the city gave a taste of their woes. The chilly wind, finding its way through the blankets, froze their bones, yet they shared their plight. Kamal Husain, a migrant from West Bengal who lives outside a night shelter in the vicinity of Jama Masjid, sleeps on a cot for which he has to pay a rent of Rs.30 per night. “When I first came to Delhi, I lived along with five others in a single room and together we paid Rs.1,800 as rent. With the passage of time, they all went back or shifted somewhere else and I could not afford to pay the rent by myself. That is how I became homeless and have been sleeping out in the open since then,” he said.

Next to him, many others slept on rented cots and hundreds on rugs, for which they have to shell out lesser amounts per day. A night shelter with a modest capacity stands next to the site but it cannot accommodate every one.

Prefer to be in the open

Space constraints aside, there are many different reasons for not staying in the shelters. Restrictions against allowing family members in is a key reason, although in Kamal’s case it was his bid to avoid disruption of sleep.

“I don’t go to night shelters because there are people who harass women,” said 22-year-old Shakeela from Nizamuddin carrying her newborn in her arms.

While most shelters allow only adult men to stay, there are some specific ones for women. One of them that The Hindu visited was found locked around 2 a.m. The caretakers explained that it was done to to avoid forced entry of men. Some night shelters are run inside permanent structures but the location can also be a source of problems. In Chandni Chowk, for instance, there is a multi-storeyed concrete night-shelter, but the presence of a dumping yard right below fills it with stench and invites rodents who nibble into the blankets and harm those sleeping there. “One day a rat broke the front teeth of an elderly person. Even cats fear these rats,” said one of the caretakers Sunil.

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