Mani Ram Yadav (42) finally has a roof over his head after spending more than 15 years on the footpaths of Delhi.
According to Delhi government figures, more than 1.6 lakh people are forced to brace Delhi’s winter in the open every night.
“In Rs 180 a month, I get a secure place to spend my nights in the winters. Earlier I used to sleep on the footpath and would lose my day’s earnings to pickpockets many times,” said Yadav, who has been staying at a night shelter in Chandhi Chowk for more than a year.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) runs 17 night shelters during winters that accommodate close to 4,500 persons. But the number is only five per cent of the Capital's total 1.60-lakh homeless population. The civic body has proposed to open eight more night shelters from January.
Despite pathetic living conditions, these night shelters are homeless people’s only refuge. They are packed every night, as most of the people feel it’s better than sleeping in the open.
“The stench from the urinals inside the shelters is unbearable. The hall where we sleep is rarely cleaned,” said 24-year-old Manzoor Khan, who has been using the MCD’s night shelter near Old Delhi Railway Station. But he comes back every night.
“We charge Rs 6 per night and in winters — January and February — the facility is made available free of cost,” said Deep Mathur, director press and information, MCD.
“Out of the 25 shelters in the city, 15 are run in collaboration with NGOs such as Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), Shahri Adhikar Manch and Indo-Global Society.”
Mathur said the busiest shelters are those near Old Delhi railway station and busy markets of Old Delhi, Nizamuddin and Lajpat Nagar where many people work as labourers during the day.
There are also two night shelters for women and children in Nizammudin and Karol Bagh but officials said there are no takers for them.
“Security is one aspect because of which women don’t usually come to night shelters. We are trying our best to provide them a safe place,” said a senior MCD official.
The civic agency is also planning to run two more night shelters for women and mentally challenged women. The Delhi government has given the MCD Rs 60 lakh for maintaining the facilities for the year 2009-10.