For Ram Singh, 50, the footpath at Kashmere Gate has been home for 20 years.
Singh left his home in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, at the age of 30 to look for a job in Delhi. Since then, he has been living on the pavement.
But Singh is not alone. There are more than 1,60,000 homeless people who are braving the winter chill under the open sky.
At least ten homeless people have died of cold in the past one week.
While there is no data on how many people died last winter, voluntary groups working for the homeless said this winter has been particularly bad for the shelter-less.
“Last few winters saw cold nights and warmer days.
But this winter, the difference between the day and the night temperature has not been much,” said Raj Bhushan of Urban Rights Forum, an
NGO working for the homeless people. “People living in the open have been facing cold nights and cold days. This prolonged winter is killing more people.”
The night shelters meant to accommodate these homeless people in the city are proving to be grossly inadequate.
As the minimum temperatures continue to remain low, only five per cent of the homeless people in the city manage to find refuge in shelters, run either by government or non-governmental organisations.
Doctors too agreed this has been a difficult winter for people living on the streets.
“The maximum temperature at daytime has gone down drastically which is troublesome for homeless people. Earlier while the nights were cold, there was some respite during the day which gave them time to recuperate,” said Randeep Guleria, professor at the department of medicine, AIIMS.
“During winters, there are few days when it becomes extremely cold with the minimum temperature becoming quite low, but this year the phase has been continuing for a while now,” said Guleria.
NGOs claim inadequate numbers of night shelters in the city are leading to deaths.
“There is a shortage of night shelters. People are being forced to live on footpath,” said Bhushan. “Many are unable to endure the cold and die.”
Bushan said police stations at Kashmiri Gate and Civil Lines have been getting reports of 8-10 deaths everyday but nothing has been done to improve the situation.
The civic body, responsible for the upkeep of most of these night shelters, claimed lack of funds, manpower and infrastructure were the major obstacles before running night shelters properly.
“We are not fully equipped to run shelters for the homeless people,” said an MCD official who did not wish to be quoted.