Concern as desperate homeless people escape shelter

2020-03-31 14:15
Soldiers seen talking to residents at the Mayor’s Walk shelter for the homeless yesterday following the KZN Treasury MEC’s visit. PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane

Soldiers seen talking to residents at the Mayor’s Walk shelter for the homeless yesterday following the KZN Treasury MEC’s visit. PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane

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KZN Treasury MEC Ravi Pillay on Monday assured agitated Msunduzi residents that order is being restored at the shelter set up to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among the homeless living around the city.

Residents of the facility have run amok, burning mattresses and having stand-offs with security guards, amid reports that many of them are suffering from acute drug withdrawal symptoms.

Briefing the media following his visit to the Transnet building in Mayor’s Walk, Pillay said: “Yes, there are challenges here and there but the municipality has been able to address many of the challenges.”

He said while the residents were slowly settling in, some of them find it difficult.

“I think there should be an acknowledgment that the profile of the constituency we are dealing with here makes things a bit difficult.”

Mlungisi Duma, who is the leader of the group, told Pillay that some of the homeless people were developing withdrawal symptoms as they were no longer able to access drugs.

“What they are asking for is methadone so that they can be able to come to terms with their new environment. The security guards had also been rude and even assaulted some of the people. We also need adequate food,” he said.

Residents from the streets around the shelter have raised concerns about crime escalating in the area.

The main worry is that whoonga and other drug addicts will resort to crime because they can’t get their daily fix.

Residents close to the facility said the homeless people were burning mattresses on Sunday and that there is constant screaming and shouting echoing from the building.

Councillor Glenn McArthur said he is concerned about the consequences of housing the vagrants in Prestbury.

“In a facility for genuinely homeless people, one needs to weed out the substance abuse addicts, and have them placed separately. Normally such a facility would conduct regular drug testing. This is not being done or considered,” he said.

McArthur added that local police, community organisations, residents’ associations and businesses were not consulted about the shelter beforehand. He believes the building should rather be prepared to be used as a temporary emergency hospital for people who succumb to the virus.

He suggested that the homeless people who are tested positive for substance abuse be sent to a centre where they can be contained under law, in secure facilities outside the CBD and residential areas, for instance at the Sevontein or New Hanover correctional facilities. “And if they so wish, be provided with rehab facilities and treatment, until they are ready to be reintegrated into society,” said McArthur.

Ross Strachan said that as councillor for the ward where the “safe house” is established, he is unhappy with the location and believes it will impact negatively on the direct environment, which consists of business and residential properties that have now become vulnerable.

“A NUMBER of incidents have already transpired in my community as a direct result of the lack of management and containment of these individuals ... most of whom are drug addicts.

“This has now placed my entire community at risk of criminal activity and will definitely have a negative impact on the local SAPS within the area who are already struggling with capacity,” Strachan said.

Dr Akbar Baker, who runs the Umlazi Medical Centre, said the addicts will not be able to get their daily fix because they can’t roam the streets freely.

“They are going to go through heavy withdrawal symptoms. The whoonga addicts will hold their stomachs because of severe cramps. It will be like hell on Earth, and will last eight to 10 days and then they will be fine.”

He suggested they be left to one side so they can withdraw and support each other.

Doctor Lochandra Naidoo of Jullo Centre, a private substance abuse rehab in Durban, said: “Violence may not be a result of the drug withdrawal, but as a consequent of poor controlled psychiatric conditions e.g. bipolar depression which often co-exists with patients with addiction disorders.”

He was of the view that the addicts are unlikely to escape the shelter and break into homes if their nutrition, sanitation, spiritual needs and withdrawal symptoms are attended to, and their medication is supplied in the correct doses.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg
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