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


Despite the lockdown, many homeless people in Gauteng are still out on the streets, with some of those who were placed in temporary shelters absconding.

Since the national lockdown commenced on 27 March, various issues surrounding the homeless population in Gauteng started emerging.

First, the population was drastically underestimated which initially led to issues of overcrowding at identified makeshift shelters coupled with food and bedding shortages as well as a lack of sanitation. Because the number of homeless was miscalculated, stakeholders also had to find alternative venues to turn into makeshift shelters to house them.

Almost two weeks since the lockdown, identifying and collecting the homeless has become a repetitive exercise as many continue to leave the shelters. It also appears the majority of the homeless in Johannesburg and Tshwane have not been taken to shelters since the lockdown.

The numbers

Acting Gauteng Social Development MEC Panyaza Lesufi previously conceded the number of homeless people in the province had been underestimated.

When the government started planning for the shutdown, it estimated there would be around 15 000 homeless people who would have to be catered for across the province, Lesufi said.

However, those figures dramatically increased. It is estimated there are around 50 000 homeless people in Gauteng, according to the province. Johannesburg has 15 000 and there is around 10 000 in Tshwane.

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

While the numbers of those in shelters fluctuate daily, the City of Johannesburg confirmed to News24 around 1 800 homeless people have been sheltered since the lockdown started, while Tshwane had housed around 2 500. While it is difficult to analyse the numbers due to the daily fluctuations, it appears, from the total estimates in Johannesburg and Tshwane, that the majority of those who are homeless have not yet been placed in a shelter.

Leaving the shelters

Both Johannesburg and Tshwane have conceded people were leaving the shelters, some because of substance abuse and the subsequent cravings, and others prefer keeping to their own small community.

"They are not allowed to leave the shelter. However, most of our shelters face the challenge of substance abuse. Some homeless people suffer from withdrawal symptoms which at times manifest into aggressive behaviour and violence.

"Once these cravings intensify, some homeless people force their way out of these shelters," Lesego Mathibela from the Department of Social Development said

The City of Tshwane announced on Sunday it had deployed a private security company to secure the shelter in Centurion.

READ | 'Selfish in their nature' - Lesufi slams schools for refusing to accommodate homeless

"Centurion residents expressed their concern over a number of homeless people loitering in the neighbourhood. While they pose no harm, it's important that we respond swiftly to ensure that they remain within the boundaries of the shelter," City administrator Lebogang Mahaye said.

A source with intimate knowledge of the shelters in Tshwane told News24 at least 100 people have run away from the makeshift accommodation in Centurion.

Tshwane administrator Mpho Nawa visited a number of shelters in Tshwane on Saturday to ensure all operations were of a satisfactory standard, with Covid-19 regulations being adhered to.

News24 previously reported 200 homeless people ran away from the Caledonian Stadium in Tshwane which was a makeshift shelter. Since then, the shelter has been closed and the stadium is now being used as a screening point for the homeless, before they are transferred to other shelters in the city.

People still being taken off the streets

The situation in Gauteng has been exacerbated by the large homeless population on the streets as well as operations by law enforcement to continue collecting those who are still on the streets and those who have run away from the shelters.

Lesufi initially said homeless people would not be forced to move into shelters during the lockdown. Since then, both Tshwane and Johannesburg clarified the process of engaging the homeless and placing them in shelters was an ongoing process.

Tshwane spokesperson Omogolo Taunyane-Mnguni said the regulations mandated that law enforcement should continue to take the homeless off the streets.

Mathibela said law enforcement agencies would continue to raid hot spots and take people to places of safety. However, it is not clear if plans are afoot to remove all the homeless from the streets during the lockdown and if all the shelters are capable of keeping them from leaving.

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