New Delhi: For those of us who take the warmth of our homes and their heating devices for granted, here`s a chilling statistic - Delhi has over 100,000 homeless people, most of whom are left to fend for themselves in the open during the cruel winter season.
"Delhi winter is cruel, its chill reaches the bones," said a 20-something Ali, while making his bed on the pavement outside Nizamuddin Dargah in south Delhi.
Ali said even if he goes to a night shelter, he is turned away as he is a drug addict.
"We don`t have any problems in allowing them in the shelter, but there have been cases where such drug addicts and drunkards have created problems for other people in the shelter," Deen Dayal, member of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), which runs several night shelters in the city, told a news agency.
Dayal said that most of the destitute on Delhi streets are drug addicts who were kicked out of the shelters.
The city of around 17 million inhabitants has 25 night shelters run by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), apart from nearly 50 temporary structures set up by various NGOs.
More alarming is the fact that there is just one night shelter for women - Anugriha, near Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in central Delhi.
Many migrant labourers say they cannot spend the night at the shelters as they have faced instances of their belongings being stolen and the women harassed.
Five such families have been camping near the Karol Bagh bus terminal in central Delhi for the past eight months.
"We were involved in manual labour during the Commonwealth Games construction work. But we can`t think of going to a shelter right now because we are a large family," said Kamla.
Experts say lack of financial aid from the government and increasing population are main obstacles in providing shelter to the homeless.
"Shelter creation is not a problem. The crucial part is shelter management. From the most basic need of food and clothing water and electricity, to the difficult part of security, everything counts here," AAA member Sanjay Kumar told a news agency.
Moreover, while most of the night shelters run by NGOs are overcrowded, the MCD-run shelters refuse to admit drug addicts.
"MCD doesn`t allow them, but we try to take them in and also give counselling and medical help to the extent we can. We even allow mentally unstable and physically disabled," Deen Dayal said.
Most of the people staying in these shelters are unskilled or semiskilled labourers, daily wage workers, vendors and rickshaw-pullers.
"The shelterless in the city, even if they are addicts, require a safe place to stay. We need more help from the government. More shelters for women are also needed. Orders are passed but little is done at the grassroots level," Dayal said.