Census data needs to take homeless people into account

There are over 14 000 people sleeping rough on the streets of Cape Town, according to the Cost of Homelessness study. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

There are over 14 000 people sleeping rough on the streets of Cape Town, according to the Cost of Homelessness study. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 23, 2023


Cathy Achilles

Cape Town - I have had an interest in the census of our country from childhood, maybe influenced by the biblical stories and my need for a sense of inclusion.

Last year, homelessness excluded me from this euphoria.

According to Statistics South Africa’s #getcounted campaign, the homeless were to have been included in the census, yet I was not.

My journey of homelessness ended when I moved into my own apartment in March 2022. I tried to use the online census form, which was not user-friendly. My newly built complex was not on the map, but ironically, the nearby cemetery was.

I then discovered that I had to add the address where I spent a specific night in February 2022. At that time, I was still living in a second-phase shelter with 40 other people. I had to capture all their names and surnames, which was impossible to do. I decided not to complete the form as it seemed to me to be impractical to do so. The process did not leave room for people who were homeless, whether in the shelter system or on the streets.

At night shelters, where people might stay only one night, many would not be counted.

Census field workers are unable to cover all the areas where people sleep rough on the streets and move around during the day. Some live in remote areas that are inaccessible.

According to the 1996 census, there were 265 homeless people in the Western Cape and 2 470 nationally.

In the population counts of 2001 and 2011, the homeless did not feature in the statistics. The 1996 result is also questionable as homelessness is not only a post-democratic phenomenon.

When an accurate count for homelessness is not captured, relevant planning cannot take place in all spheres of government.

In Cape Town, according to the Cost of Homelessness study, there are over 14 000 people sleeping rough on the streets. Comparing that number to the (high) estimate of about 3 500 shelter beds shows the resource gap in the sector.

If the correct data is not captured in our census, the government cannot correctly budget for therapeutic assistance for the homeless.

It also distorts the picture of what homelessness actually costs the City simply to maintain the status quo.

The Cost of Homelessness report found that R744 million is spent annually on homelessness in Cape Town, and the public spends R287m yearly on direct giving to people soliciting on the streets.

Clearly, there is a need for the census documents and process to be revamped, taking into account the realities of homelessness in our country and the constraints experienced by those who live on the streets or in public shelters.

In addition, the best option for the compassionate public is to donate money to NGOs that conduct developmental programmes that get people off the streets. One of these is U-turn Homeless Ministries with its four-phased programme.

In 2011, the voucher system was introduced for the public to give responsibly to people sleeping rough on the streets.

Last year, a partnership was entered with another NGO, MES, to launch the Mi-change voucher for greater reach.

These vouchers can be exchanged for a meal, clothing, a shower, and a bed in a safe space, where available. Thus, the basic needs of the homeless are met, and access is also provided to therapeutic services.

Clint Daniels, who slept rough on the streets and was addicted to drugs, walked from Retreat to Claremont with a U-turn voucher to the Claremont homeless support centre.

He ultimately went through the entire therapeutic phased programme and is now a peer co-ordinator, facilitating sessions at one of the homeless support centres assisting people living on the streets with applications for identity documents and medical needs.

Through his experiences, he motivates the homeless by visiting them and showing them a pathway out of homelessness.

The allocation of funds to NGOslike U-turn helps reduce homelessness and transform lives in a similar way to that of Clint.

Achilles is an online media coordinator and spokesperson at U-turn

Cape Times

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