Homeless battle addiction problems this winter

Raj Kumar Sharma

New Delhi, Jan 12 (PTI) The bitter winter spell hasfurther led to escalation of the problem of drug addiction andalcoholism among the homeless in the national capital as theyare using it as a ''coping up'' mechanism to fight the cold.

"Homeless kids in Delhi widely sniff whitener, mainlyin winter to remain high. A child sniffs anywhere betweenthree to five bottles a day on very cold days. It numbs theirbody and they do not feel cold," says Sanjay Gupta, DirectorCHETNA, a city-based NGO working with homeless children.

Alcohol, ganja, opium, whitener and even cough syrupsare widely used by the homeless to face the cold.

Presently there are 64 permanent night shelters in thecity which can not house more than 9100 homeless. The roughlyestimated figure of homeless is around one lakh in the city.

Subrata De, working with Delhi-chapter of the NGOAction Aid says such people need some care as they resort todrugs due to natural and man-made factors.

"Such dependence by homeless on drugs and alcohol isbecause they use it as a coping up material against cold. Theyneed help in form of de-addiction centres and counselling,"says De.

Many homeless, because of their addiction do not finda place in night shelters as the residents refuse to stay withthem.

The arrangement of night shelters by government isseen as a short-term solution by Paramjit Kaur from AshryaAdhikar Abhiyan, an NGO working for the homeless.

She agrees that the addiction increases in winter butquestions the easy availability of cheap drugs that thesepeople consume.

"Is the police not aware of it," she asks.

There are some homeless who are also addicts ofprescription drugs like cough syrup.

"Even though such drugs require a physiciansprescription, they are readily available over the counter inchemists shops across the capital. Roughly 20 per cent ofpatients who come to me are addicted to prescription drugs,"says Dr Gaurav Gupta, a psychiatrist who runs a de-addictioncentre in the capital.

Gupta says the issue of homeless is not of a seasonalnature and its a complex one and efforts should be made tofind long term solutions that can keep away the fear ofeveryday survival from the minds of the homeless.

"There needs to be holistic approach for such drugaddicts. There is no de-addiction programme for them by thegovernment. Even if some of them want to quit, they have nochoice," says Kaur.

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