Sizwe Kgama (23) was one of the homeless people who were offered shelter from the johannesburg CBD streets, most of them dealing with drug addiction, following a substance abuse outreach event held by the Gauteng Department of Social Development. Picture: Antoine de Ras, 09/05/2016

Johannesburg - Monyane Seisa tried getting clean once, but he lasted only two days before he went back to the streets.

Originally from Orange Farm, the 26-year-old headed to drug treatment on Monday in another attempt to change his life and end the drug addiction that has plagued him for years. Seisa is part of a group of more than 150 homeless who, on Friday, were tested for drugs and taken straight to various shelters and rehabilitation centres for treatment by the Gauteng Department of Social Development.

After a brief stay at the 3 Kotze Street Shelter and Shalom House of Refuge in Hillbrow, Seisa and 68 others will go to facilities including the Dr Fabian and Florence Ribeiro Treatment Centre and the Witpoort Treatment Centre for six to eight weeks.

Still, Seisa has his doubts. What’s going to happen, he asks himself, once he gets clean and is back on the streets?

“I'm kind of worried, because at one point I got healed and went home. But I got bored and I start smoking again. (Addiction) is very dangerous,” he said.

Sihle Mnguni, a 29-year-old from Soweto, expressed similar reservations, although he said he was hopeful.

“I cannot even resist the programme right now,” he said. “I can't wait to go to rehab, because I feel the happiness inside me that I haven't felt in 15 years. I don't believe I will go back to the streets. My mind will be refreshed and my heart will be clean.”

Mnguni stays in Braamfontein, but was walking down Commissioner Street on Friday when he decided to participate in the event. He is wistful when he remembers a time when he was known as a role model in his community.

“Nobody thought that I would end up sleeping on the streets. I realised at the end of the day that sleeping in the street is not an option. It's much better to rebuild the life that I had, because I still see that I am smart and intelligent,” he said.

Hundreds of homeless people queued at the corner of Commissioner and Goud streets on Friday morning, when the department gave out free hot meals and tested people for drugs and HIV/Aids.

Tebogo Itumeleng, chief director of Social Welfare and Specialist Social Services, said it was the second event of its kind, with the first hosted in December. Kebonye Senna, of the city's Displaced Persons Unit, said although her unit had been working for years to combat homelessness, this event had had the biggest impact yet. In contrast with previous projects, Friday's outreach featured collaboration between the government and non-governmental organisations, Senna said.

“A total of 91 people were taken to rehabilitation centres last week, with 69 others leaving for treatment today,” Senna said.

“We were able to finally break through the brick wall,” she said.

“Everybody came on board with their own resources. We all wanted to help the people. This was not about somebody being in the limelight, but it was about doing the correct thing for the correct reasons.”

In response to concerns about relapse following completion of the programme, Senna said there were plans in place to ensure continued support, particularly through the department’s Sustainable Livelihoods unit.

“There will be skills development to ensure that they are treated and their lives improve and they become employable,” she said.

However, more institutional support was needed to help people stay off the streets once they'd received help, said Mary Gillett-de Klerk, founder of the Joburg Organisation of Services to the Homeless.

“We need a chain of services that takes them from the street, from shelters to skills training,” she said. “We can offer them the support going forward, but once they come out of the rehab centre, they're back on the streets.”

Gillett-de Klerk criticised short-term solutions, and said advocates for the homeless must focus on the long-term.

“You have to deal with the problem where you find it, you can't just move it away. When they come out, there isn't anything and they're back on the street. You can't be in a rehab programme for ages,” she said.

Gauteng Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza said the department chose the corner of Commissioner and Goud streets because it was identified as one of 16 “hotspots” across the city with high substance abuse and crime.

Margaret Sikhulu, chief executive of the Shalom House of Refuge, said the programme expanded on work her organisation had done with homelessness and drug rehabilitation.

“(We want) to make (homeless people) understand, to make them say no to drugs, to make them feel again wanted, because that's one thing they're afraid of, rejection,” Sikhulu said. “We don't reject them for their addiction. We want to help them.”

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