Raju came to Delhi in 2010 from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh with the hope of getting his then three-year-old son Nitin cured of cancer. But now, a mounting debt has forced him and his family to live on the streets, braving the cold, with no shelters to seek refuge in.
Raju and his family are not alone. Most of the poor come from the hinterlands to seek medical aid in the city but the prohibitive living expenses and lack of adequate government-provided homeless shelters force them to live at Metro stations or on footpaths.
“I’m a man of limited means and have already spent around Rs. 60,000 on travelling and living in the city,” says Girish Mandal, who sells rice on the road in his village in Samastipur district, Bihar, making around Rs. 3,000 a month.
Raju’s sons Nitin, 6, and Harsh, 3, both have cancer that has affected their vision. “Their medicines are expensive and I’ve run up a debt of around R2 lakh already.
According to a survey conducted in May 2010 by Mother NGO for Homeless Delhi, the nodal agency for operating homeless shelters, there are around 55,955 homeless persons in the Capital.
However, the number of shelters provided by the government, where people can live for free, is abysmally low.
At AIIMS, where Raju and Girish are getting their families treated, there is currently only one homeless shelter functional. “The shelter can accommodate around 500 people. Recently, the hospital has given space for another shelter which will also accommodate 500 people and will start functioning in two to three days,” said Dr Javed Khan of Mother NGO.