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Night shelters find few takers this winter
Debanjana Choudhuri in New Delhi | December 31, 2006 20:58 IST
With New Delhi in the grip of a harsh winter, the city's homeless are ready to brave the chill but are not very enthusiastic about using the night shelters built for them.
"We estimate that there are more than one lakh homeless in the capital. Everybody needs shelter, but the night shelters do not suit everyone's needs," Paramjit Kaur, director of the NGO Action Aid India told PTI.
Currently, only about five per cent of Delhi's homeless are using the shelters, she added.
"Night shelters don't suit everybody's requirements. Some people are slaves to their the age-old habits and simply refuse to change. Hence, many of them do not opt for night shelters," said a Social Welfare Ministry official.
"Some say they are so much into the habit of sleeping in open air that they feel claustrophobic in the shelters. The need is to mobilise them," he said.
At present, there are 18 night shelters in the capital.
Out of these, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi runs ten and eight are run by Action Aid under the flagship of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, Kaur informed.
In order to encourage the usage of shelters, Action Aid along with some other NGOs and government's support has formed teams to patrol the streets at night and mobilise slum dwellers and homeless to sleep at their nearest shelter.
Talking about the reasons why homeless do not opt for night shelters, Kaur said, "Many want to sleep with their families and we can offer only separate shelters for men and women. Apart from that, many don't find a shelter close enough to their workplace, hence they prefer sleeping on pavements."
The busiest shelters, however, are those near Old Delhi Railway Station, major markets and some community centres. But in other areas, people generally come and go.
Explaining that money is not a factor for those who do not opt for night shelters, Kaur said, "We charge Rs 6 for 12 hours only in permanent shelters to meet the electricity and water bills, and we have seen that money is not a deterrent.
"And in temporary shelters we don't charge anything. Still due to old habits and inhibitions, night shelters are not being used to their full capacities," she said.
While the homeless prefer to sleep on the pavements, it is not a safe option as they are vulnerable to hit-and-runs, theft, police brutality and sexual violence.
"And women and children are the worst victims," Kaur added.There have been no deaths due to cold in the city so far this year, Kaur said. "But it is a long way to go and we urgently need to motivate more people to use the night shelters," she said.