City Home – Homeless Shelter, Central Delhi
A home for the houseless.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
The floor is of plywood. The roof appears to be of white tarpaulin. The walls, too, are of the same white material. There are no windows.
This is a home to many men, including Sanjay, Danish, Jawed, Hasim, Asif, Satish and Ameeruddin. These are actually some of the names that were jotted down last evening by the caretaker in the entry register of this night shelter for the homeless.
It is 2pm and the place is empty, here in central Delhi. It permits free admissions only for the night. Although one person seems to be fast asleep on a bed. “He works here and is resting,” explains Ankit Sharma, the caretaker attending to his afternoon shift. Managed by an NGO, the shelter props up annually on this site every winter. Named Pagoda Tent, it does look like a tent with a conical top. Similar looking shelters for the homeless can be seen across the Delhi region these days — one in Ghaziabad is outside a shopping mall.
Each bed here is furnished with a mattress, a green sheet and a blanket. Pointing to a plastic bag lying under a bed, Mr Sharma says that ”sometimes a regular (boarder) might leave behind his belongings for the day, but we are not responsible for those.” He clarifies that “most of the people who sleep here own virtually nothing… some may have a small job in labour (sic) or in catering, but they earn just enough to survive from one day to another.” Almost all tend to be from “pardes”, he says. In his 30s, Mr Sharma has been intermittently associated with Delhi’s homeless shelters for about a decade. This caretaker’s assignment is winter season’s “part-time job” opportunity to him. Nevertheless, “the experience I have gained in these shelters have been my real schooling… I’ve learned so much about the ‘duniya’ by talking to the men here, and knowing about their lives.”
This particular shelter starts to fill up at around five every evening, and becomes a full house in three hours. “Most men fall asleep quickly… because nobody has mobile [phones], so there are no songs to listen to, no news to watch, no distractions to stay awake.”
The men are woken up early in the morning with chai and buttered toast, after which they are expected to stay out of the shelter, until the evening.
A refuge for sleep