But few people would choose to live here if they had another choice, particularly the families. Parents have to take young children with them to work, often leaving them to play on construction sites or in alleyways. If there is no money for school, children are often sent to work before they even reach adolescence.
"This is not a place for a family," said Mohammad Muzaffar, who came to the parking lot 15 or 20 years ago — he's not sure how long it's been — and is now raising two toddlers there with his wife, Reshma. But Muzaffar, who works as a wedding-season waiter and a rickshaw driver, has no identity papers. He sees no way to get his family into an apartment.
"We are poor people," Reshma said, explaining why their children will grow up there. "We don't have anything."
No one seems to know how long these outdoor motels have been around. Many of the city's housing advocates do not even know they exist, given the way they disappear after daybreak.
But their need is essential.
With India's surging economy drawing ever more rural residents to its cities, the country's housing shortage has become critical.
A 2010 study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that India then faced a shortage of 25 million urban households, a number that could leap to 38 million by 2030. More than 8 million people — or about half of New Delhi's 16.7 million people — are believed to live in slums.
"There isn't a mechanism to house the people who are coming," Ajit Mohan, one of the report's authors, said in an interview. "You have to plan for something like this five, 10 or 15 years in advance, and that's not going on."
Government officials, he said, "haven't embraced affordable housing as something they have to deliver."
So places like the Meena Bazaar camp have sprung up to feed the demand.
In summer, thousands of people crowd New Delhi's outdoor motels. In winter — New Delhi winters get surprisingly cold for such a hot climate, with temperatures sometimes falling to just above freezing — the crowds thin out as people return to their home villages or find warmer places to sleep.
Eventually, the lucky find better places to live. But no matter how many people move out, there are always more ready to move in.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.