“My only wish is to get some warm water to bathe,” says Muni (50), a domestic help.
Muni’s wish is also the wish of her 50-odd fellow homeless inmates at Yamuna Bazar night shelter.
It was a mini celebration for the group when the ground floor bathroom at the shelter was fitted with a brand new geyser. Five days later, their hope of bathing in warm water in Delhi’s biting cold remains latched and locked up as water pipes in the single-storey building have been dysfunctional for nearly two weeks now.
On Wednesday, Muni bathed after “eight days or so” at a Yamuna ghat. “It is very difficult to take a shower in icy cold tap water. Once the sun was out, I finally bathed in the river,” she said.
Out of 253 night shelters built in the Capital, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) said it installed geysers at 20 facilities, including the ones at Yamuna Bazar, Old Delhi, Raja Garden and Asaf Ali Road.
Though the geysers have arrived, they are not functional in most shelters.
Nevertheless, the shelters are a blessing for at least 22,000 homeless people, especially in winter, who would otherwise live on pavements, outside temples, at traffic signals, dividers, under flyovers and street lights.
Ray of hope in winter
With a cold wave gripping the city, occupancy at shelters’ have jumped nearly 25% jump over the past one week, a caretaker said. Wednesday recorded the season’s lowest temperature at 2.1 degrees Celsius.
Manju Devi and her husband slept outside GB Pant Hospital for three days after they came from Bihar’s Nawada district to get their 7-year-old son Subodh treated for a heart condition.
“We reached the hospital on Sunday, but got an appointment for Friday. So, we slept outside the hospital for a few nights. Seeing our condition in the cold, a good samaritan brought us here one night,” said Manju.
Shankar Gali shelter caretaker, Lalita, said of seeing Manju and her son at the doorstep: “It was 3 am. This woman was blue and numb in the cold. Her son who has a hole in his heart was in a bad shape too. Her husband is staying in a nearby shelter.”
Rush for space and blankets
The inmates frequently fight over space, blankets and donations received.
Even if there are adequate blankets, rats often bite through them. Mohammad Harun who frequents the porta cabin shelter near LNJP hospital said rats had left holes on many blankets, making it difficult to use them.
The specially abled staying in the facility at Asaf Ali Road claimed that rats crawled over them, and they couldn’t move. “They run here and there all night and do not even fear crossing over our bodies. I just have one leg and take time to move. So, I keep still,” said Jatin (name changed), who has an amputated leg.
The wait for sunrise
Apart from braving freezing temperatures, women and children also have to face drug addicts, drunk men and at least a dozen prying eyes before they reach the nearest public toilet to relieve themselves.
Indrani, inmate of a women’s shelter in Anand Vihar, has taught her 11-year old daughter to “think of something she likes” when she feels the need to use a toilet at night. “She can divert her mind and control it, no? Otherwise, where do I take her in the middle of the night. The nearest public toilet is about seven minutes away,” she said.
Too little too many
Since 2000, nine surveys by NGOs – including one by the Commissioners of the Supreme Court – say there are between 52,000 and 2,46,000 homeless people in the Capital.
Around 22,000 check into shelters each night. There are 200 shelters open for all, 21 for women, 12 for children, 13 for families, five for drug addicts and two for disabled.
The remaining homeless people sleep on roadsides and in parks.
Many avoid shelter homes
With shelter homes plagued by lack of water connection, blocked sewer lines, broken doors or windows and malfunctioning sanitary ware in bathrooms and mobile toilets available in 80 shelters, a few homeless people opt out of shelter homes.
Some of them claimed to feel safer in groups, while others preferred to be on their own. “I sleep on my rickshaw only. I had slept in one of the shelters for a few nights. But, they are overcrowded. Moreover, this way no one can steal my property,” said rickshaw puller Anwar.