A midsummer’s nightmare for Delhi’s homeless

Life's no better at shelter homes, where mosquitoes, stinking toilets, filthy mats and lack of water coolers plague the occupants all summer

May 15, 2017 05:57 pm | Updated 06:39 pm IST - New Delhi

Hot and sleepless: Night shelters in the Capital have their own share of problems, but people end up at these accommodations for lack of a better option.

Hot and sleepless: Night shelters in the Capital have their own share of problems, but people end up at these accommodations for lack of a better option.

The scantily-lit night shelter near north Delhi’s Kashmere Gate, which can house up to 500 people, presents a grim reality of the situation of night shelters across the Capital. While dealing with mosquitoes remains a major concern for the homeless, other issues that demand attention at night shelters this summer include stinking toilets, filthy mats and no water coolers.

Upon entering one of the facilities for men, one cannot ignore the combined stench from the toilets blocked due to alcohol bottles thrown inside and the sweating residents.

Of the five portable cabins installed at the facility, two didn't have electricity. “There's no electricity for the past two days. We have called an electrician to fix it,” said an official of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), adding that fewer people occupy the cabins in the summer.

Reflecting on his assumption, The Hindu found 100-odd people in the other three struggling to find a slot near one of the three coolers in the cabin. The others simply try to swat away the mosquitoes hovering over their heads.

'Robbed on pavement'

“The biggest problem are the mosquitoes. They put in mosquito repellents sometimes, but that hardly make a difference in such a huge place,” says 87-year-old Anand in fluent English. He has been staying at the night shelter for two years.

Bhola, a 30-year-old daily wage labourer who came to Delhi from Bihar five years ago, sat with a plaster on his right hand. He told The Hindu that it's difficult to stay inside shelter homes in summers due to the scorching heat but has no option.

“I was sleeping on the pavement two days ago because it was airy but a couple of men attacked me with a blade and snatched my money. I came back to the shelter,” he said.

The DUSIB official said the shelter is filled with drug addicts, mostly daily wage labourers who work during the day and come to the shelter at night. “Intoxication helps them ignore the heat and sleep in peace,” he said.

Forty-year-old Suresh, who works with an NGO that provides free condoms to people to spread awareness, confessed that he too is an addict and finds it easier to sleep when under the influence of drugs. “ Guzara ho jata hai garmi mein, ” he said.

Rushing to share his problem, 20-year-old Atul simply told The Hindu , “Can you please help us get water coolers? It’s really hot and the earthen pots kept here don’t serve the purpose. I haven’t had cold water in two days.”

'Winter's better'

Occupants of shelters for women The Hindu visited in the area faced a similar situation.

Tossing and turning, 80-year-old Reshma put on a shirt as soon as she saw people entering the premises.

“It’s difficult to stay fully clothed in this heat,” she explained. The ragpicker's family lives in Chandigarh but she was asked to leave the house. Nowhere else to go, she took refuge at shelter homes in the Capital.

“Sometimes the coolers work, sometimes they don’t. I like winters better since the heat is not a problem and there are no mosquitoes either,” she says with a smile.

Saama sleeps on the floor with her four children because the mats are "too dirty to be used".

“They were last washed in March. So many people come and go, and they all sweat. What if we fall ill?” she said.

'Pitiable facilities'

On why fewer people visit night shelters in the summer, Sunil Kumar Aledia, the executive director of Centre for Holistic Development (CHD), a non-governmental organisation that works for the homeless, said, “The facilities in summers are pitiable. There are a lot of mosquitoes and hardly any water coolers. During winters, doctors visit regularly and ample blankets are provided. However, they don’t have any plan for the summer.

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