" The six temporary shelter homes, according to MCD officials, will be ready, complete with electricity, potable water supply and other basic facilities, by mid December when winter officially sets in."
By Azera Rahman

New Delhi, Dec 8 - As you pull up the blanket and tuck yourself into bed, there are nearly 10,000 women who are shivering the night away on Delhi's roads. Unlike their male counterparts who have 23 shelter homes to take refuge in, these women have nowhere to go.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi's (MCD) slum wing is setting up six temporary shelter homes around the city, besides the 17 permanent ones that are already there. But none of these are for women.

Paramjeet Kaur of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), the NGO which looks after seven of the permanent shelter homes, said the only home for women which existed for two and a half years was closed down in June this year.

'The women's shelter home had been opened up in December 2004 in Yamuna Pushta in east Delhi under pressure from civil society groups after the Palika women's shelter, open for just 10 months, was shut down,' she told IANS.

'Even that lone shelter was closed down this June after being asked to do so by the MCD. This resulted in the women, who were there, becoming homeless and being forced to live in the streets once again,' Paramjeet Kaur added.

What came up instead of the shelter home was a warehouse.

The plight of homeless women can be gauged from the plunging winter temperatures in the city - sometimes as low as 3 or 4 degrees Celsius.

According to a survey done by AAA between December 2006 and January 2007, there are nearly 100,000 homeless people on Delhi's roads of which 10,000 are women.

This means that despite nearly 10 percent of Delhi's homeless being women, there are no shelter homes for them. Most of these women live with their children and families.

Indu Prakash Singh who leads the international developmental agency ActionAid's work on shelter and homelessness said that not only will more shelter homes for women save them from the bitter cold, but also ensure that they are protected against rape and abuse on the roads.

'The New Delhi Municipal Council is one of India's richest municipal bodies with a large amount of property at its disposal. Many buildings are lying unused which could be turned into shelters with a small investment as running cost,' Singh said.

'More shelters with specific provisions for women and children would mean fewer rapes and assaults.'

According to MCD officials, there is no point in setting up shelter homes for women because they never avail of the facility.

Atar Singh, deputy director general of the Slum and JJ wing of MCD, said: 'There are no separate shelter homes for women because they don't stay in them. Invariably the homes remain empty.'

'In the shelter home for women which was closed down this year, there were hardly 20-22 women. It was a huge place and could easily accommodate more women.

'Also with women, the problem is that they tend to believe they can settle down in the shelter home and get all the belongings, the children's stuff, there whereas we are aiming at providing shelter only for the night,' Atar Singh told IANS.

He, however, added that in four of the shelter homes, one room was meant for women.

'Three permanent and one temporary shelter homes have a room each for women. Yet last year we noticed that even in a congested area like Jamuna Bazar, there were just eight women occupying the room,' Atar Singh said.

Although the MCD officials couldn't reason out why the response was so weak among women despite their being in great need of it, Paramjeet Kaur said the location of the shelter homes played a pivotal role in this case.

'Most of these shelter homes are located in cut off areas where women don't feel safe going. Therefore they prefer huddling together in railway platforms and temples,' she said.

'If more shelter homes are being set up in places like near the Kalkaji Mandir in south Delhi or Nizamuddin, I am sure women will come up.'

Also, Paramjeet Kaur said the MCD needed to take a different approach.

'There has to be more allocation of funds and safety and security should be of utmost importance. Also, since most of these women stay with their children, there should be options by which they can send their kids to school.

'The staff in the shelter homes must be specially trained as well,' she said.

The six temporary shelter homes, according to MCD officials, will be ready, complete with electricity, potable water supply and other basic facilities, by mid December when winter officially sets in.

For the women, though, this might make little difference.


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