“For the last 25 years, I have tried to get rid of this habit but I have failed. Smack took away everything from me — my family and my home. But I keep trying to defeat this demon,” said Vijay Kumar, 60, who lives in Krishna Nagar.
As Monday evening starts to descend on the Walled City, the homeless in the area start to flock to the makeshift clinic set up near Jama Masjid. The rickshaw pullers, beggars and destitute are ready for their regular medical check-ups but the longest line is in front of a young doctor handing out de-addiction prescriptions and checking the patients’ progress. Vijay Kumar is one among them.
In the Walled City, where a 2014 government survey said 10,000 of the total 16,700 homeless population of the city live, doctors from the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) attend to addicts and alcoholics every Monday and Thursday and try to rehabilitate them within the community.
The bi-weekly health camp is organised by NGO Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), which has been working with the homeless in Delhi since 1999.
“With some patients I see progress, with others not so much. Our basic aim is to improve the quality of life of those who are addicted. If routines are followed, there can be real progress,” said Abhyuday Singh, a junior resident at IHBAS.
The most common drugs used by the homeless, according to Singh, are heroin, smack and opioids.
Pradeep, 58, a former drug addict, was homeless because of his addiction to heroin. After attending the de-addiction programme for close to three years, he was allowed entry into his home after eight long years.
While there are several stories of triumph, the list of failures is even longer.
“Quitting is easy, never using again is the difficult part. While most addicts grapple with this problem on a daily basis, for the homeless the fight is tougher. It is the loneliness that kills,” said Praveen, a coordinator with AAA and also a former addict.
Sajid Ali, 50, has been homeless for more time than he can remember. His parents lived in Delhi.
“They died some time ago. I could never kick the habit and go back to them. I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy,” he said.
According to Sanjay Kumar from AAA, the model of a community clinic has worked in the area because it caters particularly to a community that is already present in the area.
“To have a better impact, this is a programme that needs to be scaled up. It required engagement and integration, which is currently missing. The best bet would be to open more such clinics in areas that have a sizeable homeless population. Three-month programmes that the government wants cannot work with this population,” said Kumar.