New Delhi: Despite the Delhi High Court's order directing the government to build one shelter per one lakh population, the capital still has only 150 temporary and permanent shelters that can house a mere 7500 homeless people of the city. With over three lakh homeless people in Delhi, the existing shelters are not only inadequate, they are also in poor conditions.
"Shelters are full every night. You should go and see how people pile up and sleep. Things get stolen," Niaz Ahmed, rickshaw puller, said. The condition of existing shelters is deplorable with some deprived of water, electricity and toilet facilities.
"Water tankers don't come here so we face water shortage. People have to defecate in the Yamuna river," Jeevan, caretaker of a shelter in Yamuna Bazar said. Those shelters that do have sanitary facilities charge money from the shelter takers. "They ask Rs 3 for toilet facilities and Rs 7 for using the bathroom," said a shelter resident Niaz Ahmed.
"We get electricity, but tubelights are not functioning. We get water but for the past two months even that has not been coming. The water motor has been fixed now," caretaker of a shelter at Ajmeri Gate said.
Poor hygiene and sanitation is yet another concern at the shelters. There are two night shelters in the Yamuna Pushta area, but Ram Chander, a construction worker, spends his nights under a tree, right in front of the shelters. "I try and stay away and sleep here so as to avoid all the unhygienic things at the shelter," Ram Chander said. "All sorts of people come there. People with diseases also use the same blankets used by 10 other people. There are no facilities to take a bath or brush teeth, so I stay away and sleep here to stay clean."
Even in permanent family shelters like Motia Khan shelter that can house 500 people, beds, security and cleanliness is a big challenge. If on one hand lack of sanitation forces people to stay in unhygienic and deplorable conditions, on the other hand, the government shelters built deep inside residential colonies keep the homeless away. Some lie unused because they are built in areas that the homeless cannot access.
"It's so deep inside the residential colony and it so congested. There is no street light even in winters," said a homeless person. "The shelter remains almost deserted with only the guards occupying the place," Praveen Kumar Kashyap, a shelter resident in Delhi's Majnu Ka Tila said.
Other shelters, especially those that are run by Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board have remained closed, with local residents not allowing the homeless to enter. "We have issues with the drunkards who seek the shelter's support and then create a lot of commotion in the colony," said Mohammad Shahid, a colony resident. Some night shelters have even been converted to banquet halls while Delhi's homeless are left fighting a cold and lonely battle of survival.