32-year-old Poonam was diagnosed with womb cancer in March last year, after which she left behind her husband and three children at her home in Uttar Pradesh and moved to the national capital for further treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
“I have no one, not even my husband. I’ve left my three young children behind in UP and come all the way”, said a helpless Poonam.
Today, she finds herself living on the cold pavements of the city, struggling to choose between the will to fight cancer and the biting cold. Poonam has been living on the pavement outside AIIMS for the last seven months.
“My treatment is getting delayed and the cold makes the situation worse. I have one blanket, nothing to even spread on the ground.”
AIIMS, which runs a free shelter for the homeless in collaboration with an NGO, says it is overwhelmed with the sheer number of homeless patients it has to cater to. The hospital claims that although the shelter has a capacity of 245 people, an attempt has been made to accommodate more than 350 patients in the last few weeks.
There are over 170 shelters for the homeless in the city, but with around three lakh people on the streets, that’s far too less.
Similar scenes are seen even in other parts of the country with scores of patients, including children, living on the streets outside Chandigarh’s PGI hospital. PGI spokesperson Manju Wadwalkar says arrangements have been made for shelter but the patient inflow is far higher than the capacity of the hospital.