Homelessness a hot potato for the city and NGOs

Various city departments and non-profit organizations in Johannesburg have become entangled in a cycle of shifting responsibility and pointing fingers at each other when issues of homelessness are brought up.

“All that glitters is not gold” is a well known aphorism that conveys the idea that appearances can be deceiving, thus some things are too good to be true. The city of Johannesburg, often dubbed the City of Gold, serves as a vivid illustration of this saying as it grapples with significant disparities stemming from political instability, macro-economic challenges, and persistent social problems.

A typical morning in the bustling streets of Johannesburg is characterised by the noise of car horns, as frustrated taxi drivers weave through traffic, disrupting the flow of traffic. For those who call the pavements on either side of the road home, this commotion is their unwelcome alarm, while the early risers are already up, sifting through garbage bins in search of food or items to exchange for a few coins at recycling centres. This is the daily reality of a homeless person in the city, however, it becomes even more daunting during winter or rainy days.

For some shelters provided refuge, only three government shelters are operational in Joburg. Three Kotze Street Shelter in Braamfontein is the largest, accommodating 350 males and females, followed by the 1 Dan Street shelter which has a bed capacity of 60 for males only and lastly, 21 Windsor West which has a bed capacity for 40 males only.

Despite this, homelessness receives little to no attention in annual budgets and planning, census data cannot even accurately capture the number of people on the streets in the municipality. Consequently, careless estimations have been made, such as when Homeless Solutions, a non-profit organisation based in Pretoria said that there were a combined 600 000 homeless people in Joburg and Tshwane. Africa Check denounced this claim after finding out that it was based on opinion rather than evidence.

Moreover, the municipality releases an Integrated Annual Report where overall city governance such as management, service delivery, financial performance and more are covered. This report also did not have any programmes or funding outlined for displaced persons. Instead, homelessness was identified as a hinderance to the public sector housing plan.

In April 2020, Gauteng premier, Panyaza Lesufi said that Johannesburg had 15 000 homeless people while Tshwane had 10 000. Yet, in a recent interview with News24 the CEO of Johannesburg Homeless Network, Mary Gillet-de Klerk said the number is currently more than 20 000 in Johannesburg.

Evidence shows that the municipality has made no financial investments in statistical research which could help to determine the accurate number of displaced persons. The director of research of the Gauteng Department of Social Development, Sello Mokoena confirmed that there are currently no plans to invest in such research. Therefore, speculations will persist.

On the contrary, the City of Cape Town (CPT) conducted an extensive study which not only found an approximate number but also the racial make-up and health status of its homeless population. This type of research required collaboration between various departments and NGOs and ultimately assisted the local government to plan for this vulnerable group’s basic needs.

The departments of Social Development, Financial Development, Human Settlements, Public Safety and Transportation are some of the city’s key drivers of social change. But when questions about shelters, budgets and healthcare for the homeless are raised, the finger pointing begins.

The Johannesburg Department of Social Development (DSD) defines homelessness as “displaced persons who live on the streets, under bridges or open spaces and are unable to provide themselves with shelter at any given time or place.”

The above definition proves that housing is a huge problem, however, Shiraaz Lorgat who oversees social housing funds under Human Settlements said they do not “play in the homelessness space” as they only fund affordable rental projects.

When enquiring about the inadequate health facilities and services provided for homeless people, the deputy director of the District Health Services Dorothy Diale, told Wits Vuvuzela that homeless people are attended by “social development,” but did not comment on the health department’s mandate on displaced persons.

Ultimately, the department of social development acknowledged that they are accountable for the homeless population, but clearly indicated that against popular belief, their mandate is not to remove people from the streets but rather to create awareness and to work closely with those who are willing to be assisted. “Human Settlements is not doing what they should be doing, its mandate is to provide housing, our [social development] mandate is not to build,” said Kebonye Senna, the head of the Migration, Displaced, and Children’s Services Unit in the department.

The lack of accountability propelled the provincial government (Gauteng Department of Social Development) to rely on Non-Profit and Non-Governmental Organisations to care for homeless beneficiaries, and allocated R87 million to the NPOs in 2022 and in 2023. Budgetary constraints saw the same allocation two years running.

Nonetheless, during the state of the province address on February 20, 2023, Lesufi announced that R2 billion was allocated to NGOs without specifying whether this was in addition to the R87 million. In response to this, Senna expressed her dissatisfaction and lack of trust for NPOs, noting that the government is wasting money by funding them. She further referenced an article published on November 6, 2023, about corrupt NPOs using resources provided for the poor for their personal benefits. “The money given to NGOs is meant to assist shelters. R 289 000 should be given to 3 Kotze Shelter per month and R 55 000 to 21 Windsor West, but theres only R 20 000 provided for both shelters.”

The 2022 social development policy document on homelessness has an alphabetical list (A-Z) of objectives. Three specific goals stand out. The first states that the department should “institute regular research (every two years) to establish the nature and extent of homelessness in the city”. The second states that the department should “facilitate access to housing through advocacy programmes for the homeless,” and the third that there should be a “special allocation of a percentage of houses to rehabilitated homeless people”. These objectives have not been realised and there are currently no plans in place to pursue them.

The slogan for the Johannesburg Health Department is, “one city, one health system” thus the assumption is that displaced people are included in healthcare services, especially because they are more prone to contagious, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The city has 40 public clinics and hospitals, however, according to a report by the National Institute of Health, homeless patients face discrimination, marginalization and stigma when accessing public hospitals. Moreover, there are no programmes in the department of health tailored to the needs of displaced persons, particularly if they are immigrants or do not have identification documents. For example, the latest HIV counselling and testing policy, dates to December 2003 but does not make mention of homeless people.

Twenty three yearold Sandile Letsoele told Wits Vuvuzela that he does not go to public hospitals because the nurses look down on him and other homeless people. “They’ll just look at you and tell you to stand very far, so we normally wait the whole day before we get help,” said Letsoele.

In partnership with the Holy Trinity Church in Braamfontein, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) students established the only clinic for homeless people in South Africa in 2004.

However, the leader of the church, Father Bruce Botha told Wits Vuvuzela that the clinic has not been operating since covid-19 due to “institutional problems” which he did not wish to elaborate on. The Health Sciences Faculty at Wits did not respond to queries around this either. “When it does run, it provides basic health screening, medical consultation, providing free prescription medication, wound dressing and HIV screening,” said Botha.

The issue of stigmatization goes beyond health care facilities, it is also seen in local communities.  Senna said that social development looks for hotspots before establishing a shelter, “We tried in Lenasia but there were issues of security, people don’t understand homelessness- they associate it with criminal activities.” She added that they are currently building another shelter in Freedom Park which will accommodate both males and females.

Displaced persons sometimes complain about the accessibility and treatment in NGOs and shelters.  Thirty year old Nicholas Mncube, from Zimbabwe said he went to 3 Kotze shelter in Braamfontein, but they refused to take him in without a social worker. “I really don’t know why they wanted me to bring a social worker, but now I’m staying at MES [an NGO for the homeless] which is also here in Braam.” Mncube said staying at MES costs R30 per night which he cannot afford regularly, he can only go on days he has raised enough money from begging.

Apart from this, the homeless also try to forge their own homes, be it on the streets or by occupying abandoned buildings. Mncube who left Zimbabwe at the age of 23 said he lived and slept next to Joburg Theatre but was chased away by the police before going to MES.

Letsoele, who ended up on the streets due to drugs said he stayed at 3 Kotze but they kicked him out before his due time, “I was attending my sessions and recovering but they kicked me out during the weekend when my social worker was not there so I couldn’t even speak to him.” Contrary to this Senna said, the beneficiaries go through a three to six months programme which includes assessments and rehabilitation, and only released once their social worker believes they are ready for the outside world.

Councillor of Braamfontein, Sihle Nguse told Wits Vuvuzela that the homeless affect all sectors “everybody must play a role to assist the homeless, they are such smart guys they deserve a second chance at life”. He added that Braamfontein has approximately 500 displaced people.

Although the health and social development departments are jointly responsible for the city’s homeless pupulation, it is crucial to note the African phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This implies that the upbringing and development of a child are not solely the responsibility of their parents or immediate family. Instead, it suggests that a community, including extended family, neighbours, and friends, play a crucial role in nurturing, guiding, and supporting a child as they grow and learn-this same analogy could be used in the case of homeless persons.

PROFILE: Biokineticist stretches skills to the fight against covid-19

A passion for health promotion and a desire to heal have helped Feroza Lekota in being the bearer of bad news for covid-19 patients. 

The coronavirus pandemic has required the utmost strength and resilience from a biokineticist employed by the department of health in the Western Cape, who is part of the covid-19 contact tracing team informing individuals of their results and assisting in isolation and food distribution.

Feroza Lekota (35) has to call individuals who have tested positive for the virus. Some calls are easy, such as when the individual lives alone and has not been in contact with anyone. However, others can be more complicated. “This can entail finding out that the individual is living in an informal settlement with 10 other family members in a home that only has two bedrooms. All those individuals will have to then go into isolation. As well as work colleagues if the individual has been working,” she says.

Isolation facilities are then provided for those who cannot isolate in their homes. This includes placing individuals in hotels and providing food for those unable to buy or go to stores.

As a biokineticist, Lekota is an exercise specialist involved in increasing a person’s physical condition and quality of life through physical assessment and the prescription of health exercise habits. Before the coronavirus outbreak, she was involved in implementing healthy lifestyle programmes in low-income communities, worksites and schools across the Western Cape, in order to reduce cases of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

However, the pandemic has brought such activities to a halt because of the prohibition of large gatherings and Lekota’s work has shifted to infectious disease and counselling of covid-19 patients and their families.

She says her experience as a biokineticist has helped in this shift of work in terms of her skills in talking to and guiding individuals who suffer with chronic illness. But it doesn’t come without its challenges. “This is an area that is completely new to me and a skill I’m learning and improving on every day. Some days are emotionally draining and taxing, especially when the person infected has passed away or is hospitalised.”

Dr Frederick Marais, director for increasing wellness in the provincial health department and Lekota’s boss, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “It’s been helpful having her on board as a permanent team member full-time because of the numbers we deal with. It also helps that she has health background experience which is a great asset in terms of providing health-promoting information and education to the cases and their contacts.”

Although Lekota works from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, she has to be available for emergency calls on weekends or if a translator is required for a Xhosa-speaking individual. This has been a challenge as she is studying towards a master’s in biokinetics. “Time management has been a struggle because work has now taken precedence over my study and writing time for my dissertation,” she says.

Being involved in health and biokinetics has been a life-long dream of Lekota’s with her passion for healing people guiding her career choice and perseverance.

“Since I was very young I have always had some interest in the power of healing. As a human, my purpose is to be of service. I have found that being in health has given me that purpose. If I can improve one individual’s quality of life, I would have fulfilled my purpose.

“My future plan is to pave the way for biokineticists to integrate into the public healthcare system (hospitals and clinics) as well as to advocate for health professionals to use social media as a tool for health promotion and behaviour change in public health,” Lekota says.

FEATURED IMAGE: Feroza Lekota at work, where she has to inform people of their covid-19 test results and to help positive patients with isolation and food parcels. Photo: Provided

RELATED ARTICLES:

Wits students do not TOP numbers

Although legal abortion statistics in South Africa have gone up, a campus nurse says the numbers of students who opt to go for abortions have gone down over the last five years.

Last week Monday health minister, Aaron Mostoaledi, released statistics showing a 31 % increase from 2010’s 59,447 to 77,771.

The three provinces which ranked highest were the Free State, North-West province and Gauteng.

During 2011 there were 21, 944 abortions carried out in the Free State, followed by 12,138 in the North-West and 11,239 in Gauteng.

According to a paper by Lynette Vermaas, a researcher from the Student Development and Support (SDS) at Tswhane University of Technology (TUT), student pregnancies at tertiary institutions worldwide are increasing every year despite the assumption that students have sufficient knowledge of the risks of unprotected sex.

Campus Health and Careers Counselling and Development Unit (CCDU) work together in assisting female students make informed decisions about termination of pregnancy (TOP).

Sister Maggy Moloi, a nurse at Campus Health, said the clinic advocates for “family planning education, especially to first years [students] during Orientation Week.”

She mentioned the clinic does not, carry out abortions because it offers primary healthcare which includes services such as family planning and treatment of STIs and HIV testing.

CCDU psychologist Toinette Bradley said: “We do work with Campus Health but students wanting ToPs are usually referred to clinics and hospitals.”

Moloi said Campus Health refers students to the Marie Stopes near Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto because it’s much more affordable than the one in Ghandi Square.

When asked whether students use termination of pregnancy as a contraceptive measure she said: “Most of the students access contraceptives from the clinic. They do know about the service.”

However, she believes that generally young women do not access contraceptives from clinics because they are not educated about the different types of contraceptive measures available.

Moloi said the problem is fuelled by misconstrued information about the effects that birth control pills have on their bodies. Young women don’t communicate with their parents about sexual matters because they are considered as taboo in some families.

Although the statistics referred only to legal abortions, Sister Moloi said the biggest problem faced was that people still go for backstreet abortions and “some end up with infections or even worse, they end up dead”.

An example of this was the death of University of Johannesburg (UJ) student, Ayanda Masondo (20) earlier this year. Masondo was found dead in her residence room from what was reported to be a botched illegal abortion.

Campus Health’s relationship with CCDU helps with the possible emotional consequences of abortion.

“Those students who come back frustrated and depressed because of the abortion, then we refer them there for further counselling,” said Moloi.

She believes the clinic used to have “a huge number of students coming in for assistance for abortions but compared to five years ago to now, the numbers are very low”.

 

Published in Vuvuzela 22nd edition,31 August 2012