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Delhi's Homeless In Winter Chill Find Comfort In Moveable Shelters

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January 23
4:01 AM 2016

This year's winter in Northern India has been particularly cold. Winter arrived a little late this time with temperature recorded at 14.4 Celsius on Wednesday - lowest for the season. The people most affected apart from office goers and students were the homeless living on pavements under the open sky.

According to NDTV winter having arrived late is expected to stay longer. The MET department has predicted that the weather conditions would make life difficult for those who live out in the open.

The Centre for Holistic Development, an NGO, has recovered five bodies of homeless people on 19 Jan from these areas: Connaught Place, CR Park, Civil Lines, Kashmiri Gate and Chandni Chowk. The next day two more bodies were found at Yamuna Bazaar and Yamuna Pashta neighborhood.

In this unforgiving conditions one company Micro Home Solutions (MHS) has offered respite in the heart of Central Delhi by providing affordable semi-permanent structure to the homeless living on pavements and under flyovers with the help of crowd-funding.

Swati Jann a senior designer had this to say, " These structures are easy to erect and we also train the homeless to dismantle and reassemble them as they often have to move from one place to the other."

MHS has distributed tents to 125 families each of which can accommodate at least four persons. The tent is made of bamboo, welded reinforcing-bars and a thick canvas including a net to keep away disease borne mosquitoes.

One of the homeless residents remarked that living in the temporary shelter is easy because she can take it down during the day and put it back up after sunsets. Another resident indicated that having the shelter made her feel at peace to know that her things would be there in the shelter when she returned. On the other side of the coin, many do not want to go to these shelters citing overcrowding, theft and violence.

Times of India has reported that there are at least 246 night-shelters with space for over 18,000. The daily occupancy is yet to exceed this capacity. Although shelters are needed in zones like Yamuna Pushta-Kashmiri Gate area, what is required urgently is an aggressive rescue mechanism to move the homeless to shelters even when they refuse.

Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board received 366 complaints on its mobile app for homeless in distress. Of these, 254 were rescued and 43 not found. Another 95 refused to shift. This is the issue that the government needs to address. To date rescue teams have shifted 5,785 homeless to shelters since January 1.

The New York Times has reported about other aspects of the homeless in Delhi during winter when quilts and blankets become a commodity and the quality of sleep a homeless labourer gets depends on what he can purchase from the quilt wallah. Filmmaker Shaunak Sen has been researching for the last two years on sleep vendors for a documentary called, "Cities of Sleep".
India's NGOs and its society have played their part in meeting part of the needs of Delhi's homeless in coping with the harsh realities of winter. As to what was discovered by India's filmmaker Sen, we just have to wait for the release of the documentary.

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