Picture: Phill Magakoe

Pretoria - Thousands of people live on the streets of the capital city but according to experts, homelessness in the city can be completely eradicated.

Stephan de Beer, of the Tshwane Homelessness Forum, said: “It will require bold vision, innovation, investment and broad-based partnership but it is possible.

“When the forum envisions the eradication of street homelessness, it is not because we want a cleaner city, but because it is acknowledging the dignity of every human being,” De Beer said.

The forum was created to be a platform for organisations serving the homeless, the City of Tshwane and the homeless themselves. Forum meetings are held every second month to share concerns, create awareness and co-ordinate services.

Eradicating homelessness on the city’s streets would mean that all homeless people are included in society and they have fair access to resources.

“The forum actively advocated for the renovations of Number 2 Struben Street (the municipal shelter). It is appalling to see how this facility has deteriorated over time and it has become a dumping ground for the SAPS and metro police to simply clean people off the street as if they are waste,” De Beer said.

“Homelessness is often completely misunderstood as the few people begging at traffic lights. Number 2 Struben Street is a case in point. More than 600 people live in this shelter and probably represent 20 different forms of homelessness,” De Beer said.

Dr Jacques du Toit, of the University of Pretoria’s Department of Town and Regional Planning, conducted research into how municipalities respond to homeless people.

“Since homelessness in the large cities is likely to increase in the foreseeable future, and since it affects the well-being of not only the homeless but also the public in general, it is important to ask how these municipalities are responding to homelessness, how prepared they are, what factors influence their responses, and where they locate shelters,” Du Toit wrote as part of a larger Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) study.

De Beer added that each type of homeless person needed their own strategy and set of interventions to get them back on their feet.

Currently the largest group of homeless people classified as “economic homeless” people who migrated from rural areas to find jobs but ended up on the streets. So-called “situational homeless” people are homeless due to circumstances such as abuse at home or mental illness.

Chronic homeless people are those who struggle with substance abuse. “The complexity of homelessness is often not considered in policy and strategy, or by the broader public to in its response to homeless realities,” De Beer said.

According to Du Toit’s research, homeless people want municipalities to provide them with employment first before providing homes.

He suggested metros, including Tshwane, “view homelessness primarily as an issue of lack of employment and affordable housing and locate the responsibility with local economic development and housing departments”.

De Beer said the forum believed in an integrated approach addressing the psycho-social, physical and spiritual factors that caused homelessness in the first place.

According to the forum, the solution boils down to proper housing options. “Overnight shelters should be precisely what the name suggests. These should be emergency services for people not to have to be exposed to the streets,” he said.

Transitional housing options are then the next step, where people can stay for a longer period and receive psycho-social, economic and other empowerment services suitable for different groups such as men, women, the elderly and those struggling with substance abuse. “Beyond all of this, the City of Tshwane, social and other housing companies, and community-based organisations, need to explore innovative options for decent affordable housing catering for people earning as little as R1 200 per month,” he said.

Many homeless people are eligible for pension grants and some earn a small or irregular income.

“The dream is not necessarily impossible. What is lacking is often the will,” he said.

Du Toit said the homeless needed access to jobs. “It is important that housing is provided in places where there are actual employment opportunities, not just in zones of transition and other marginal urban spaces that shelters tend to get pushed into.”

De Beer is concerned about the ability to forge broad-based partnerships in which all stakeholders will not compete but collaborate.

“If we do not rise to the occasion, who will?” he asked.

Pretoria News