Bid for centre help homeless beat Covid

University of KwaZulu-Natal law students assisting homeless people at the Denis Hurley Centre before the level 4 lockdown was introduced.

University of KwaZulu-Natal law students assisting homeless people at the Denis Hurley Centre before the level 4 lockdown was introduced.

Published Jul 3, 2021


THE Denis Hurley Centre in central Durban has confirmed that it has applied to the Department of Health to be registered as a vaccination centre in the fight to contain the spread of Covid.

Many of Durban’s homeless will find the online vaccine registration process difficult to do and, in many cases, present an ID ‒ both of which are required to get a vaccination.

DHC director Raymond Perrier said this week that the centre made the application because “it will make it that much easier for homeless people to register and to be vaccinated”.

“This is not just about keeping homeless people healthy ‒ a vaccination programme that fails to engage with a substantial and mobile part of the community is putting everyone at risk,” said Perrier.

Many homeless people migrate to Durban’s warmer climate during winter, and Perrier said the numbers had increased as winter temperatures set in across Gauteng. He noted that was unlikely to continue with the travel ban in and out of Gauteng under Level 4 regulations.

Perrier said the homeless remained vulnerable to becoming infected with Covid because sanitising protocols were difficult to adhere to for those living on the street.

“Social distancing is difficult, and the Safe Open Sleeping Spaces set up by eThekwini have become crowded as the municipality has closed down sites and moved more and more tents on to just a few sites. Constant sanitising is difficult when there are so few public toilets and those that do exist, are closed from 4pm,” he said.

The site behind the Jewish club has increased from two tents to five.

“If homeless people have to show an ID card to get a vaccination, as they do to register to vote, then about 50% will fail. We have been trying to get IDs from the Department of Home Affairs, but their process is very slow and now they are not giving IDs again.

“They (the department) are rightly concerned about crowds of people queueing in their offices, but that is why we have offered to host a mobile facility at the Denis Hurley Centre with the appropriate crowd control,” said Perrier, adding that the vaccination registration process was not suitable for those living on the street because it required online access.

“As we found with the R350 grant, the system is usually designed by people who have little understanding how poor fellow citizens actually live,” he said.

The Navi Pillay Research Group at the UKZN School of Law, which advocates for social justice, has also approached the Department of Home Affairs with a request for a mobile unit at the Denis Hurley Centre to enable the homeless to get, or replace, IDs, so they can vote in the October elections.

UKZN final-year law students recently spent time at the centre as part of their street law course. They learnt about methodology and approaches to communicating legal concepts and remedies to ordinary people and raising awareness on their human rights.

Some shared their experiences of their outreach work.

Londeka Magudulela said: “The first few days at the centre, I was quite nervous and reserved and lacked communication skills as the thought of interacting with the homeless was extremely scary for me.

“As time went on, I found my place at the centre and enjoyed serving food to the homeless, interacting in discussions with them, helping them to fill in forms to get IDs if they did not have one, which many of the homeless were excited about, and lastly, taking statements from those who had their rights violated”, she said.

Phumla Sokhela said: “At first, when I started, I was afraid of getting out of my comfort zone, but the more I got to wake up and go to the centre, the harder it got for me to sign out of my shift each day. There has always been a very bad stigma around working with homeless people, (considered) either dangerous or dumb and anything around those lines, but working with them and even having some of them as my friends, proved to me they are just human like all of us are.”

Chanelle Naidoo said the experience “reminded me why I chose to study law and it has reinforced my intrinsic desire to help and serve others for advocating for justice”.

Rache Paul said: “It has made me realise you could touch a life just by sitting down and listening to what someone has to say. It is simply that easy to be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The Independent on Saturday

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