Homeless fend for themselves in city’s scorching heat

Insufficient shelter homes and unsafe conditions at the facilities put thousands at risk of heat exposure

Published - June 10, 2019 01:05 am IST - NEW DELHI

No respite:  People rest on a footpath near Yamuna Bazar in New Delhi.

No respite: People rest on a footpath near Yamuna Bazar in New Delhi.

Forty-five-year-old Rakesh Singh sits in the shade of a flyover, watching his two children have a meal.

Right next to them is his wife relighting the firewood in the 44°C heat.

Singh is one of the thousands of homeless people living in the city. Most of them are more often than not migrant labourers, and the city’s infrastructural capacity regularly fails them.

The ongoing heatwave, which is set to intensify in the coming week, will force such people to resort to taking some risky decisions.

Water scarcity

“Daily water is not a guarantee for us. I usually arrange for water from a nearby temple. The authorities there give only a limited amount to us. I have to be quick as there are many people living on the adjoining streets,” says Singh.

Hailing from Rajasthan, Singh along with his family earn their living by selling balloons at a traffic signal located next to Lajpat Nagar flyover on Ring Road.

“We had gone to live in the shelter home about two years ago but someone stole all our belongings. We came to know that these homes are not safe for children and hence decided to leave,” says Shanti Kumar, who too lives under the same flyover with her family. She had come to the city from Uttar Pradesh in 2016 and sells toys for a living.

According to the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), 250 shelter homes with an overall capacity of just 16,760 are built across the city and are managed by different NGOs.

They, however, fail to be of respite to the burgeoning migrant homeless population.

The lack of sufficient shelter homes has been an issue during extreme temperature conditions in Delhi for a long time.

Santosh Jha, executive director of Safe Approach, an NGO that manages up to 75 of such shelter homes said, “We have addressed the problems of safety and security and also improved the services. To combat the heat, there are coolers and cool water dispensers at every shelter home.”

He added there are limited shelter homes due to infrequent rescue operations. “Homeless people are rescued regularly and in large numbers during the winter. The same needs to happen in the summer. Rescue operations have gone down significantly.”

Parvati Lal (38), who waits in the sweltering heat under a tree inside the AIIMS says, “Until it is time for our appointment, we are not allowed to enter the building. The hospital authorities make us sit here till 9.00 p.m. and after that, we are told to vacate the premises. The only option for us is to be on the footpath or at the metro station if the authorities are kind enough. We get water from the dispenser next to the waiting hall but that too shuts at 900 p.m.” She has traveled from Jharkhand for treatment.

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