Lockdown: Drugs, knives and contaminated needles found at makeshift shelter in Centurion

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File photo - A South African policeman points his pump rifle to disperse a crowd of shoppers in Yeoville, Johannesburg. (Marco Longari, AFP)
File photo - A South African policeman points his pump rifle to disperse a crowd of shoppers in Yeoville, Johannesburg. (Marco Longari, AFP)

Drugs, knives and contaminated needles were among the items police seized during raids at the Lyttelton sports ground in Centurion, where more than 300 homeless people are being sheltered during the lockdown.

Gauteng's acting social development MEC Panyaza Lesufi and Tshwane administrator, Lebogang Mahaye, visited the makeshift shelter on Monday, following reports that people were fleeing and heading back to the streets. Many of those living there suffer from substance abuse.

ANALYSIS | Majority of Gauteng's homeless still on the streets despite lockdown

Initially, people living there were allowed to go out as long as their reasons for leaving were allowed under the lockdown regulations.

However, these privileges have been revoked due to the trade of drugs and illicit cigarettes.

Behaviour

"We are trying our best not to use force and treat this as a concentration camp, but their behaviour will guide us in terms of how to continue," Mahaye said.

Mahaye told News24 that police raided the shelters on Sunday evening and again on Monday morning, and said they found cigarettes, heroin, dagga, knives and contaminated needles. It was believed that the needles were used as weapons to intimidate people in the shelter.

Mahaye said some people have been forcing their way out of the shelter, taking items such as bedding and mattresses to sell for drugs.

Several people who live at the shelter spoke to News24 and said drugs were indeed sold there, but added that it has become difficult to do so because of raids and the beefed-up security.

Gang-like elements

Two men said there were gang-like elements in the shelter who have been trying to take control of operations, but that officials have managed to nip this behaviour in the bud.

READ | 200 Homeless people escape Tshwane temporary lockdown shelter due to bad conditions

The residents of the shelter are given methadone daily to help with withdrawal symptoms, but cravings have led to people run away in search of drugs.

It is also understood that while some people have left the shelter and returned, others have left for good.

A source who has intimate knowledge of the shelters in Tshwane told News24 that at least 100 people ran away from the makeshift accommodation in Centurion.

Lesufi acknowledged the issues at the shelter but said the problems would be sorted out under the guidance of the lockdown regulations and the law.  

He engaged with the homeless community at the shelter to get a sense of the issues they had and the care they required.   

He added that programmes were in place to help those suffering from addiction.

Plans were also afoot to help the homeless people prepare for life after the lockdown, which include the teaching of soft skills and help obtaining ID documents.

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