Sizwe Maduna from Mandeni and Andile Buthelezi from Nquthu are two of the successful homeless people who received skills development training from weFEEDsa’s House Of Opportunity(HOO) programme for the homeless. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Sizwe Maduna from Mandeni and Andile Buthelezi from Nquthu are two of the successful homeless people who received skills development training from weFEEDsa’s House Of Opportunity(HOO) programme for the homeless. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Reflecting on Durban’s homeless a year after hard lockdown

By Karen Singh Time of article published Mar 15, 2021

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ALMOST a year after the eThekwini municipality was praised for the success of its programme to help the homeless in Durban during the hard Covid-19 lockdown, many have returned to the streets but some are working towards turning theirlives around.

When the country went into a hard lockdown last March, the City with the help of several non-profit organisations set up sites, referred to safe open spaces, to house the homeless and provided daily meals.

One of the organisations involved was weFEEDsa.

Kathija Lauten, the general manager of weFEEDsa, said their organisation provided meals at 38 sites to the homeless, 14 of which were temporary shelters set up by the municipality last year during the hard lockdown.

She said the organisation identified homeless people who were eager to pursue opportunities to change their lives.

“We believe in empowering people. We want people to become independent and self-sustainable,” said Lauten.

She said the organisation, based in Stamford Hill Road, was in the process of opening up a House Of Opportunity (HOO) at their premises to provide the homeless with skills, including brick laying, plastering and basic construction.

“In addition, we are arranging classes on welding, motor mechanics, carpentry and panel beating,” said Lauten

Lauten said as the need grew, they would branch out into other fields of training.

Eight people had already gone through the programme and had secured full-time jobs in building, construction and security, she said.

She said the second Covid-19 wave had delayed the opening of the HOO but an additional 20 people would be accommodated in the programme.

“We will move the homeless here to our facility, provide them with skills development and assist them with finding employment,” said Lauten.

Belhaven Harm Reduction Centre is a site that was renovated by the municipality in response to the city’s homeless crisis.

Professor Monique Marks, who is head of the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology and one of the people in charge of the centre, said they treated about 200 people daily.

Marks said the centre offered daily observed methadone dosing, an opiate substitute, to assist drug users with withdrawal symptoms, and also provided psychosocial support.

Belhaven also provided testing for HIV and TB, she said.

She said as long as there was inequality and a lack of opportunities, drug use would continue to be a form of resolution for those who lived on the streets.

She added that while people were quick to judge drug users harshly, they used the drugs to cope with the challenges brought on by their economic and psychosocial conditions.

Marks said following the easing of lockdown regulations, many of the homeless returned to the streets although there were still some in shelters.

Marks said all homeless people were welcome at Bellhaven and the centre provided one meal a day and had facilities for homeless to wash their clothes.

“We also have other basic medical services that are provided through a couple of doctors,” she said.

Raymond Perrier, director of the Denis Hurley Centre, said there were three municipal-run shelters for men, namely behind the Jewish Club, Albert Park, and the AK Block in Greyville, as well as a referral-only site for women near Umgeni Road.

“The municipality continued the shelters, set up during the lockdown, because they realised it was a relatively low cost way of helping people and the wider society,” said Perrier.

He said that now, when police informed the homeless that they were not allowed to sleep in certain areas, they could refer them to these sites.

Perrier said 75% of homeless people were either from eThekwini or from other parts of KZN, including Umlazi, KwaMashu, Port Shepstone and Harding.

He added that some homeless people chose not to go to the safe open spaces available to them free of charge.

He said they instead preferred a spot deemed safe where they felt at home or they may be loners while some perceived the open spaces to be dangerous.

However, he said as far as he knew all the homeless were aware of the sites and how to access them.

He added that of the close to 2000 homeless counted during the lockdown, statistics taken on March 8 this year from the city’s safe open spaces showed that only 520 people slept at the sites.

Marks said the way that Durban treated homeless people during the Covid-19 lockdown was better than any other city in the country.

“The goal was to protect homeless people both from Covid and from police harassment,” said Marks.

Marks said it was tough for some homeless people to adapt to living at a shelter as living on the streets had become a standard and a way of life .

She said in order to effectively manage the safe open spaces, the homeless were required to be inside at a certain time but some preferred not to have limits on their movement.

Belhaven ran a two-day programme for homeless women who were drugs users last week to commemorate International Women's Day.

Voluntary tests included pap smears for cervical cancer, HPV, TB, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The programme, hosted by the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs (Sanpud), assisted 79 street-based women in and around the city.

One of the women, Zama Mbewu, said while she had been wary about doing the tests, the results were worth it.

“For the pap smear, I was so scared. It was my first time doing it. The sisters were helpful.

“They told us it was nothing to be scared of. It was just a small pain that will end,” she said.

Sister Carla-Louise Horwood, who is a registered nurse in daily contact with the people at Belhaven, said the women were grateful for the tests that were usually unavailable to them.

The Mercury

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