New Delhi: Though winter has arrived, the Delhi government is yet to deploy the temporary night shelters. They are either deployed partially or, as the government says, will be deployed in the coming days and will be fully operational by the end of the coming week. At some places where the tents have been put in place, only the beds and blankets could be seen, jam-packed with people living inside in darkness.
Near the Fatehpuri night centre, there were many people sleeping on streets, on footpaths and on dividers, some choosing to sleep on footpaths due to their addiction for substance abuse and others were turned back by the night shelter caretakers due to the lack of space in the shelter.
The Sunday Guardian visited the permanent shelters to see if there is overcrowding in the shelters at night, and find out why the government hasn’t deployed shelters on time or pre-empted before the onset of the winter. Ram Satya, a caretaker at the Fatehpuri night centre, said: “We can’t deny anyone shelter, if we have provision to adjust people we do. At times, we don’t even see their identity card because everyone has the right to have shelter. There are 210 beds in Fatehpuri night centre and we do adjust more than that, though for now, we have to refuse space to around 25 people every night.”
The Sunday Guardian visited many night shelters where it found the tents were not deployed yet and if they were at some places, they were not functional, and if some of them were made functional, the facilities were not launched, only the beds and blankets were there. Proper power connections are absent and the tents were fully packed with people. The Sunday Guardian also found that there were some permanent shelters where there was enough space and considerable vacant beds —the hygiene of the shelter houses was maintained and the cleanliness was also kept intact in washrooms and there were also meals provided by the government on time, two times a day. Anil Verma, who works as a co-ordinator of night shelters and also goes out on rescue operations out of his goodwill, told The Sunday Guardian: “There are nearly 15 people on an average we rescue every night and mostly the rescued are overly drunk, we put them in the shelters that have vacancy. There are also people who refuse to come into the shelters, then we give them blankets so that they can survive the cold.”
But the shelters were not enough at places where they are needed the most, as the winter has set in, it has become unbearable for people to sleep without shelter. Some tents have been pitched partially outside the AIIMS, yet there are innumerable people sleeping out in the open. There are not enough shelters at crowded places like AIIMs to accommodate people, there are more people sleeping in the subway than there are people staying in the night shelters, making them vulnerable to any uncertainty. Though people want to stay in the shelters, they say they are crowded and “we won’t get a chance”.
Krishan, who sleeps on the reeling bed of the subway near AIIMS hospital, said that he has been here for two months for treatment in the hospital and now when the night shelters have been initiated to be deployed, there is no space, they are always overcrowded. Anil Sharma, a caretaker at one of the night shelters, said “there are many people who come to us and want shelter for a night, some stay for longer and mostly people come and do not leave which becomes a problem at times as there are many others who come for medical treatment and deservingly need a bed or two, but we can’t just tell other homeless people to leave.”
Another caretaker near AIIMS said: “The police come to us and tell us not to let anyone stay here for more than three days, but we can’t just push people out of the shelter. If the beds become vacant, we try to give them to the patients and only entertain one attendent with him.”