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Delhi’s night shelters for the homeless are hopelessly inadequate

The Delhi government appears ill-prepared for a cold winter with not enough night shelters. Those that are there don’t even have basic facilities like functioning toilets or geysers.

editorials Updated: Nov 21, 2017 14:36 IST
Hindustan Times
delhi winter,north india winter,homeless delhi
Homeless people at the Chandni Chowk night shelter in New Delhi (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Delhi’s homeless have to contend with extremes of weather. The city puts them through scorching summer days and bone-chilling winter nights. And every year, just like with efforts to combat the annual onslaught of pollution and fog, the government of the day is woefully underprepared when it comes to night shelters for the homeless to get through bitter winter nights. This year is no different. It is almost the end of November and there remains much more to be done.

NGOs have estimated that the number of homeless people in Delhi may be as high as a lakh. This is not counting those who seek temporary shelter, such as those who are in the city for medical emergencies. The daily night shelter occupancy report on the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) website reports that there are 236 night shelters in the city. Thus far this year, only 183 night shelters have been set up; 73 are permanent structures; 109 are porta-cabins; and one is a tent. In addition, there’s talk of another 70 temporary shelters to accommodate another 3,000 people.

DUSIB has also decided to ensure that stay in the shelters will be free until March 2018. A Hindustan Times report has found that people are still being charged at least Rs.10/- for entry into these shelters. . The shelters are expectedly overcrowded, and have no facilities to speak of. On paper, every shelter is to have hot water, breakfast and tea , but the reality is far from this. In the few shelters that have geysers, these don’t work. Many do not even have functioning toilets. And few serve food.

The question of women’s safety is another one that merits attention, especially when it comes to shelter for the homeless. In a city infamous for assaults on women, there must be safety measures in place to allow women who have to bear the hardships of living on the street to feel a modicum of security in the shelters. Many homeless people prefer to brave the elements rather than spend the night in shelters because of safety issues.

Providing those who live on the street the basic dignity of a hot meal and a space to sleep at night is the least a government can do. Like the pollution, this isn’t an unplanned emergency and there can be no excuse for not being better prepared.

First Published: Nov 21, 2017 11:40 IST