As winter takes hold across Turkey, Istanbul is undergoing a cold snap that is taking its toll on the homeless. The municipality of the most populous city of the country opened its winter shelters for the homeless on Nov. 22 and has reached out to 2,135 people so far, giving them accommodation, meals and health services for free.
Picked up from streets and abandoned buildings where they take shelter, the homeless are taken to two separate shelters for women and men in the Esenyurt and Kayışdağı districts of the city.
Men make up the majority of the homeless, while only 95 women occupy the shelters. More than 750 of those given accommodation are foreigners. Currently, 548 homeless people are staying in the two shelters.
The shelters have an "open-door policy" from December to March, admitting anyone without a place to call home. The municipality also provides assistance for those seeking to return to their hometowns and accommodation in nursery homes and hospices or those seeking a reunion with their families.
A hotline set up by the municipality also allows citizens to report homeless persons who are then offered transfer to shelters.
Deniz Tanrıverdi, a 47-year-old man who came to Istanbul from his hometown Adıyaman years ago, is among those who found a place to stay in the shelters. He has stayed since Nov. 22 and mulls finding a job after he leaves the shelter. "I lapsed into depression when things did not turn out well but I am recovered now," Tanrıverdi said, referring to a failed business enterprise that caused him to lose everything. "This shelter makes me feel that I am really in a country of [good Samaritans]. Every staff member here treats us well, like we are members of the same family. This is something not even your own family does. They serve really delicious dishes, and we have bathrooms and clean clothes here. This is the perfect place for anyone without a home," he told Anadolu Agency (AA). Adnan Yetişkin, another homeless man, echoes Tanrıverdi's sentiments. "We are very pleased with the service they give," he said.
Rıza Zorlu was staying in the courtyard of a hospital in Fatih district before municipality crews took him to the shelter in Esenyurt. "Thank God, they give us everything here. We have meals and tea, everything," said Zorlu, a single pensioner who was forced to live on the streets when he was evicted from his home.
Dr. Tamer Atakurt, who serves at the Esenyurt shelter, said that every day they treat about 25 patients suffering from health problems stemming from exposure to freezing temperatures. "We offer them basic services and transfer those with more serious problems to hospitals," he said.