Homeless Clutch Blankets Close

Chennai’s winter decidedly colder than last year; shelters find strong patronage in the city

Published: 09th January 2014 07:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th January 2014 07:42 AM   |  A+A-

For most people, the worst of the city’s cold season may have disappeared with the end of December. But the battle for warmth is far from over for homeless people. Despite temperatures hovering around the 21-22 degrees Celsius mark, most people who still sleep on the pavements agree that the nights are decidedly cold, “I do not know numbers as I did not stay in school long enough, but this year the nights in January are much colder than the last three years,” says Adhi, a 20-something youth who lives on a pavement in Maduravoyal with his family, “Last year my mother and sister slept with a sweater till New Year and then it became warm, but this time they are still using the same sweater. Even I use the thick bedsheet,” he says gesturing towards a torn rug that looks like a carpet.

The weathermen at the Regional Meteorological Centre said that the cold waves in the night could be because of changes in humidity levels and the lack of strong breeze. The stagnant air could hold a lot of dew and create a ‘chilling’ effect on people at night, they added. “The maximum temperature is only about 30 degrees, so the variance between night and day is not too much and the days are quite cool,” said an officer at the Airport’s Met centre.

Though primarily meant to help the homeless during the monsoons, the city’s 20 odd night shelters have become a source of refuge for many homeless people, especially in North Chennai, “This year we have improved facilities and informed people that the shelters are open for them to use. There is a fairly strong patronage and people are slowly choosing these buildings over bus stands, stations and pavements,” said an official in the Corporation’s Health Department.

Those of them who do not have a convenient night shelter in the vicinity have opted to brave it out on the streets using rugs and old clothes to provide them warmth. Some like Paravaiammal use their cooking fires for warmth till they fall asleep, “When I was younger, I would keep the fire going till the family slept. Now my daughter and her children prefer to sleep at the MRTS stations or near there,” she says pointing towards the mammoth station in Chintadripet. “So I don’t keep the fire going anymore,” she sighs, hopeful that the dew and chill will lift soon.

Even policemen have stopped harassing homeless people from spending a few hours inside stations and CMBT to have a ‘warm’ nap, said Urumi, a bead seller who takes his family to the outer platforms of CMBT to catch a few winks, “They used to wake us at 2-3 am and kick us out, but now they only come around and ask us to leave after dawn. It gets quite cold till then,” he says.

Though there are no official figures, it is estimated by NGOs that there are at least 15,000 homeless people living on Chennai’s streets, excluding migrant workers.


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