Ten-year-old Sonia looks dazed. But it is neither the bone chilling cold nor her empty stomach that make her reflexes so slow. The blank look is the result of sniffing the easily available thinner used for correction fluid that Sonia, who usually sleeps on the pavement outside the Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place with only a tarpaulin sheet between her and the cold ground, is addicted to.
A homeless drug addict has no roof over her head in the winters as the other homeless who sleep in the night shelters taunt her for being an addict.
"They laugh at me. Many a time they hit me too, asking me to get out of the shelter. I don't go there anymore," said Sonia.
While the Delhi government has provided night shelters for the homeless across the city there is not even one de addiction facility for the street dwellers. A sizeable number of the 1,60,000 homeless in the city are either drug addicts or alcoholics making them even more vulnerable to the cold weather conditions prevailing in the city.
Night shelters function as only an accommodation during the harsh Delhi winters but do not provide the holistic support such drug addicts need. In the absence of a government run de addiction facility, these homeless people have no where to go even if they want to quit drugs and alcohol.
While some NGOs, such as Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action (CHETNA), work with children addicted to drugs, no help is forthcoming from the government so far.
"The children we work with sniff fluid to ward off hunger and cold. It makes them very weak and very vulnerable to diseases. The easy availability of fluid is also a big set back in case of young addicts," said Sanjay Gupta, director, CHETNA.
According to Indu Prakash Singh, technical advisor, Indo Global Society for Social Service, many homeless drug addicts are already so weak that they are sure to die in the biting cold. "No one tackles this issue. This is a problem that goes hand in hand with homelessness. We can't hope to solve the problem of homelessness in isolation," he said.