Woonga addicts gather under the bridge near the railway line at Williams Street smoking the drug. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng
Durban - The eThekwini Municipality is planning to build drop-in centres and homeless shelters to help those living in the street and reduce begging, drug abuse and crime.

The drop-in centres and shelters will be the first funded by the city, according to Raymond Perrier, director of the Denis Hurley Centre, which does extensive work with homeless people.

Perrier said it was right that the city made a commitment to helping the homeless.

A report by the Human Science Research Council in June last year, investigating homelessness and causes found 3 933 people were homeless in Durban and 50% of these lived on the street and in parks, the other 50% living in formal shelters.

The report was recently tabled and adopted by the municipality’s full council as a programme of action.

The eThekwini Municipality’s head of communications, Tozi Mthethwa, said after the tabling of the report, the city would adopt a holistic approach to assist the homeless.

“The report outlined the adoption of the Social Developmental Strategy and the implementation of recommendations emanating from an in-depth homeless study conducted in the city by the Human Sciences Research Council."

These recommendations include drop-in centres, shelters and policy development to address social ills.

“The city will be establishing drop-in centres, one in Dalton, the other in Margaret Mncadi Avenue. We are looking for another site in the north,” Mthethwa said.

She said the city would partner with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide accommodation for those living on the street. “We are hoping to establish three shelters which should accommodate 300 people collectively,” she said.

Mthethwa said two centres would be in the CBD and one outside the city centre.

Training would be provided to those living in the shelters so that they could gain employment.

“The drop-in centres will do assessments and screenings of individuals and see what assistance is required. They will then be referred to a shelter or for services they may need,” she said.

Perrier said the city’s efforts were welcomed.

The Hurley Centre caters for about 300 homeless people a day, giving them breakfast and lunch, and its sees about 2 000 patients a month in its clinic, which is partly funded by the municipality.

“When the municipality says it will create centres for the homeless, they should make certain that that suits the homeless, not the needs of the officials, he said.

“They should open seven days a week and on public holidays. The homeless have no holidays.”

According to Perrier’s estimates, there are about 4 000 homeless people living in Durban, 2 000 of whom are on the streets and the other half in shelters, “but a shelter could be just a shelter with a bed."

There are no standards that describe what a shelter is.

“When you put up a building for an animal there are standards, but not when building for a human being.”

He said to date, “there is no department that has taken responsibility for homeless people and there is no single funded shelter for the homeless. It has been the NGOs like us and the churches that have taken responsibility. There are no government services offered to the homeless.”

Perrier said some shelters charged around R40 a night, which was a lot for a homeless person.

“The city should stop looking at the homeless people as a problem and look at them as the solution. How can we use them to keep our city clean?

“We should stop passing by-laws that criminalise poverty, for Durban to become the most caring city in the world,” he said.

He said a lasting solution was economic growth that would give opportunities to all.

The report, titled, “Ikhaya lami: Understanding the Homeless in Durban”, found that most of the homeless came from Durban and a common driver of homelessness among this group was family disagreements.

It found that 30% of the combined street and shelter population engaged daily in activities for pay.

“Most of the street and shelter populations are between the ages of 19 and 34 years.”

Younger people tended to stay on the street, with a relatively older population found in shelters. Seven percent of the shelter population were pensioners with a further 14% between the ages of 45 and 59 years.

It found that dagga, whoonga, alcohol and glue were the drugs of choice for those living on the streets.

The Mercury