The Mpilo Shelter in Joburg has been a haven for the homeless during the lockdown.     Nokuthula Mbatha African News Agency (ANA)
The Mpilo Shelter in Joburg has been a haven for the homeless during the lockdown. Nokuthula Mbatha African News Agency (ANA)

Lockdown shelters give nyaope addicts a chance to come clean

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Apr 18, 2020

Share this article:

Johannesburg - For eight years, Joshua has been caught in what he calls the industry of nyaope - a life of street hustles, sleeping in doorways and forever searching for the next fix.

As Joburg went into lockdown to beat the spread of the coronavirus, Joshua was given the opportunity to finally shake his dependency on the drug.

Like so many other homeless across the city, Joshua was taken off the street and brought to a shelter run by non-profit organisation Mould Empower Serve (MES). Some of those who arrived, like Joshua, had long-standing drug addictions.

To assist, MES brought in the SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (Sanca).

“This is like a present,” says Joshua (not his real name). “Now, I want to be a man.”

Joshua says he was introduced to nyaope while working in Randfontein.

Eventually, he ended up on the streets of Johannesburg, sleeping rough in a doorway not far from the Standard bank head offices in Simmonds Street.

Joshua was put on medication, and by Tuesday, he said he hadn't used nyaope since March 26.

But for Sanca, the lockdown has meant they have become much busier.

So far, says Sanca director Adrie Vermeulen, her organisation is working with over a thousand homeless people who have come to the shelters with drug problems.

“It is quite a lot to manage,” says Vermeulen.

“We have centres which aren't used to large numbers.”

But what the Coronavirus has unexpectedly provided is an opportunity to help drug addicts who ordinarily don't have access to programmes and facilities to kick their habits.

“They can't access treatment, or they don't know where to access treatment a lot of times,” says Vermeulen. “So this is a good opportunity for them to do so. And many of them struggle with dual diagnosis. They have a mental health condition as well. And this is also an opportunity to then get professional help for that as well.”

There are, however, challenges. For one, many homeless drug addicts are not choosing to give up on substance abuse. It has been forced on them because of the coronavirus. And the lockdown is a time of uncertainty.

“You will find that people will want to take more drugs because that is how they deal with stress and anxiety,” says criminologist Dr Simon Howell.

Outside the MES shelter is a world that has become harder to survive in for drug addicts.

“It is difficult out there. The shops are closed. People aren't giving out money at the robots,” says Sarah ( not her real name), another homeless drug addict.

“You will find nyaope. It is always there,” adds Joshua.

There is a problem, though: the medication that is given only helps with cramps and withdrawal. It doesn't stop the craving for drugs.

Over the last two weeks, the CEO of MES, Leona Pienaar, has watched as some of the drug addicts gave up and left the shelter. Their craving had become too much.

Then Sarah and Joshua left the shelter. They were caught on camera stealing.

“They left voluntarily. We confronted them and we asked them, 'did you do it?' And they said, 'we did.' They said they were not coping without drugs and they would rather leave,” says Pienaar.

But while some have left, there are those who are still committed to fighting the drug that holds power over them.

“There are still some who are still holding on from the first day of lockdown, who are still fighting the battle, so I don't believe it is in vain for all,” says Pienaar.

Saturday Star

Share this article:

Related Articles