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No one is immune is homelessness

We should not be so fixated on statistics that we forget that everyone is valuable, no matter their socio-economic background, says the writer. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

We should not be so fixated on statistics that we forget that everyone is valuable, no matter their socio-economic background, says the writer. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 27, 2023


Cathy Achilles

There are 55 719 people who are experiencing homelessness, according to Census 2022.

Even though the data might be questionable, it should be seen as a motivator to change South Africa’s homelessness trajectory.

Every person who experiences homelessness has a story. We should not be so fixated on statistics that we forget that everyone is valuable, no matter their socio-economic background.

According to the census, the number one reason that leads to homelessness is loss of job/no job or no income, which is at 41.3 %. Thirty years ago, people who were unemployed could go to a factory or shop without a CV and be hired immediately.

Today, with technology, most job applications are done online. The solution would be to go to a library.

The person who is sleeping rough on the streets might feel that they will experience prejudice and not be allowed to enter it. If they are allowed to enter the library, there might be a time limit between 30 minutes to one hour to complete their CV and apply for jobs on a computer.

For those who have a strong tech aptitude and fast typing skills, that might be obtainable. What about a person who is computer illiterate and will not be able to complete their CV or apply online for jobs?

Printing it will cost money, and it could get wet while they are sleeping on the streets. Finding work is a labyrinth for somebody who is experiencing homelessness, whether sleeping rough on the streets or living in a shelter. The general condescending way society speaks to the homeless by saying, “you are lazy – get a job” will not change their situation.

At 10.9%, not affording accommodation was the fourth reason among females becoming homeless, according to the census.

During the Covid pandemic, I lost my apartment because of poor financial decisions that left me unable to pay my rent. While living in the shelter, I used my mobile phone to apply for jobs. I was fortunate to have friends who purchased data for me, yet I was unsuccessful in my pursuit of seeking employment.

In the second quarter of 2023, the employment rate is 32.6%. There is a joined struggle for the housed and unhoused to find employment.

One of the questions on the Census questionnaire was related to domestic violence as a cause of homelessness.

One out of five women in South Africa experience physical abuse by a partner.

According to the Census, 3 661 females live in shelters. While I was living in different shelters, women shared their stories of how they tried to escape abuse. A few of them have also lived on the streets.

Some housed women stay in abusive relationships because they are not only abused physically, but also financially. They are afraid once they leave, they will end up homeless.

Twenty five percent of people become homeless due to drug/alcohol abuse. Dimitri Cupido lived on the streets for many years, and was addicted to drugs.

Through a voucher that somebody gave him, he went to the U-turn Homeless Ministries’ Homeless Support Centre. He went through their holistic phased programme.

Today, he lives in his own apartment and is the foreman at Living Roots, one of U-turn’s social enterprises. As a fellow graduate of theirs, I, too, live in my own apartment, like Dimitri.

Arguments with friends or relatives were the cause of homelessness for 17% of individuals. Gibson Nzimande, on Thursday, 19 October 2023, graduated from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) with a Master of Art degree in history. In 2018, he was busy with his Master’s and a year later, he became homeless.

He ended up on the streets due to financial challenges and family disputes after the death of his mother.

Last year, he was interviewed by Eyewitness News (EWN) while he was busy pushing his trolley filled with scrap. In the interview, Gibson shared that he had kept his certificates in a plastic bag at the bottom of his trolley.

He had a diary to keep track of the work that he was doing. While living on the streets, he would read literature at the public library. With the help of UJ and public contributions, Gibson was able to leave the streets and complete his degree.

He is planning to study next year for a PhD in anthropology. Even when he was living on the streets, his dream was to become a lecturer. Gibson is closer to his dream being fulfilled.

No one is immune to homelessness, let us treat people living in shelters or on the streets with dignity.

Achilles is freelance writer, homelessness and mental health advocate

Cape Times