With winter settling in and the nights getting colder and longer, homeless children here are preferring to call the streets their home instead of taking refuge in night shelters, which they say are less child friendly, say NGOs.
There are 64 permanent night shelters at present in the city while the government is working on 84 more temporary night shelters. Out of the total capacity of 9085 in the permanent night shelters, 665 seats are for women and children.
The construction and maintenance work of the night shelters has been handed over to Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board by Delhi government.
"The night shelters in Delhi are male and adult oriented. Elders bully children and ask them to do their work," says Sanjay Gupta, Convenor, Bal Adhikar Abhiyan, an NGO working for welfare of the homeless children.
"Children complain to us that they do not get blankets there. There is also the danger of them being exposed to drug addiction as some people in the night shelters are already addicts," he says.
13-year-old Ravi spends his nights on a pavement near Nizammudin area in the capital. When asked why he does not go to a night shelter to sleep, he says, "I do not feel good there. The elders staying there are very rude and one of them also asked me to sleep in his blanket. I stopped going there after that."
Pickpockets are another nuisance. Mahesh, 15, a street-dweller once lost Rs 80 in one such night shelter.
"I feel more secure with people of my age than elsewhere. So, we made a group of five children and sleep where ever we find a place to sleep in night," says Mahesh.
Subrata De who works for the welfare of children with the Delhi-chapter of the NGO Action Aid says the problem of homeless needs intervention throughout the year especially during winter months.
"We found only very few children going into these shelters since they are handled like adults there. There is lack of sensitive care and handling," says De.
Director of Salaam Balak Trust, Kiran Jyoti agrees that there is no special focus on children in the night shelters.
"The government shelters lack facilities. It is not enough to set-up a shelter. Children should feel encouraged to utilise the facilities as well," says Jyoti.