Amritsar's homeless give shelter cold shoulder; no facilities for women, children
Left at the mercy of elements, 25-year-old Honey has no choice but to cover himself with his sole possession, a blanket, to keep the biting cold away during night on a footpath in city's posh Ranjit Avenue locality. He is not alone. One can spot hundreds of such destitute, who sleep on the city roads at night.punjab Updated: Jan 21, 2014 21:25 IST
Left at the mercy of elements, 25-year-old Honey has no choice but to cover himself with his sole possession, a blanket, to keep the biting cold away during night on a footpath in city's posh Ranjit Avenue locality.
He is not alone. One can spot hundreds of such destitute, who sleep on the city roads at night.
The proposal of the Amritsar district administration to provide shelter to the homeless has evidently failed.
This is despite the fact that the shelter for the homeless has several rooms but not many destitute are willing to go there in the absence of facilities.
The destitute are found virtually everywhere in the city, famous for its religious and cultural heritage, be it at the railway station, bus stand, Lawrence Road, Bhandari Bridge or Hall Gate.
Hindustan Times team visited various points across the city where those sleeping on the roads outnumber the ones staying in shelter home.
Honey, who earns his livelihood by pulling rickshaw, says, "I started working for five or six years at a tea stall in the B-Block market when I was five years old. I sleep alone in a small wooden shack on the footpath and park my rickshaw next to it."
"I have developed disc complication and want to get treated but it is beyond my reach. And if I get operated upon, I will not be able to drive my rickshaw again. I have no other option but to earn my livelihood. My parents are no more and I am on my own," he says.
With the mercury plunging further, many homeless are seen warming around bonfire and cooking their food on the road. Many of these destitute are into begging while others are roadside vendors and rickshaw pullers.
The corridor of Nehru Shopping Complex has been home for Kalyani Devi, who hails from Rajasthan, and her son, for seven months.
"Who wants to sleep on roads in cold weather? We cannot afford an accommodation by selling balloons on the roadside. We left our home when my husband died. We are fighting for survival," she says.
Set up in 2010, the district administration's shelter for the homeless currently has 41 inmates as against its capacity of 100 people at a time.
Around 2,200 people have found shelter here since 2010.
Dharampal, the shelter caretaker, says, "At present, there are 41 homeless men here. We do not have facilities for homeless women and children. We have a team who try to find out those people forced to sleep on the streets of Amritsar."
"We provide them basic facilities such as blankets and hot water for taking bath. Not only this, everyone is given toiletries and individual bed," he adds.
He says they are served food and tea procured from the community kitchen of golden temple.
A policeman on duty (name withheld) said, "Mainly people who are into begging and are alcoholic or take drugs land up here. Their habits have brought them to this situation."
In this shelter home, there are people from UP, Bihar, Delhi among others.
Gagan (27), who hails from Indore in MP, says, "My hands have a problem and hence the only thing I can do is to beg. I do not have parents and relatives and that is why I never thought of going back to MP. If I get all the facilities in the shelter home, why would I leave this place and shiver on the cold streets."
Amritsar deputy commissioner Ravi Bhagat said, "The main problem is that these destitute, especially the rickshaw pullers, are not ready to leave the place where they earn their livelihood. Few days back, we distributed more than 100 blankets and some woollen caps to the homeless in the city and created awareness about the facilities which the shelter home offers.
We can only request and provide them with good facilities and it is up to them how they avail it. It is my request to all the homeless in the city to enroll and avail the facilities at the shelter home. Whosoever needs blankets they can come to our office."