Last year, I was left behind in the national census because I was homeless and living in a shelter on the night of February 2.
I was unsuccessful when I tried to complete my details electronically on my cellphone after I moved into my own flat on March 12 last year. I had to state how many people had lived with me on February 2, and name them. That was impractical because I had been living with more than 40 people in a shelter.
It’s important to consider certain factors that can affect the accuracy of homelessness data. For instance, individuals who sleep on the streets might move around during the day, making it difficult for fieldworkers to visit their place of residence. Those who live in shelters may move to other shelters or even return to the streets, which adds to the complexity of accurately capturing data on homelessness.
Amid the obstacles to capturing the true reflection of the state of homelessness in South Africa, the census data can be a conversation starter to understand its realities.
According to Census 2022, there are 55 719 homeless people in South Africa, of which 44 512 are sleeping rough on the streets and 11 207 are living in shelters. At 41.3%, the number one cause of homelessness is loss of jobs/income or no employment.
Gauteng has the most homeless people – 23 455 on the streets and 1 929 in shelters, or a total of 25 384.
The question of how to tackle homelessness remains a pressing issue.
It is important to look at the factors that contribute to people becoming homeless and those at risk of becoming destitute. The unemployment rate in the second quarter of 2023 was 32.6%. There was a 0.3% decrease since the first quarter of this year.
Employment opportunities need to be created to bring people out of homelessness and also prevent people from becoming homeless.
President Cyril Ramaphosa presented South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery plan at a joint sitting of Parliament on October 15, 2020. He said the government would commit R100 billion over three years to create jobs through public and social employment. In his State of the Nation address this year, he said 850 000 employment opportunities were created through the Presidential Employment Stimulus.
According to the Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter of 2023, 50% of the people who are unemployed do not have a Grade 12 education, 40.2% have a matric qualification and 6.6% a tertiary education.
The government should remember the promises made three years ago and partner with businesses and social enterprises – some of which are recovering from the destructive economic impact of the pandemic; and create more employment opportunities. The 0.3 % decrease in the unemployment rate shows that there is an increase in job creation.
Community organisations should partner with educational institutions to assist those who want to complete their secondary and tertiary education to make themselves more employable.
The Census 2022 data on homelessness must not become decorative information but rather, be the catalyst for change. Creating pathways out of homelessness cannot be done in silos. There are many organisations that do amazing work in helping the homeless but they cannot work alone if they want to make a huge impact. To achieve their goals, they need to form partnerships with other organisations that share their vision and values.
Tsepho Community Development Initiative and U-turn Homeless Ministries have partnered and launched a homeless support centre in Northcliff. It gives homeless people access to a therapeutic team and provides their basic needs, such as food, clothing and access to a shower. Through the holistic partnership, people are being equipped with skills to overcome homelessness through a phased programme that leads to independent living and employment.
As a nation, we must work together to make a lasting impact to end homelessness and not wake up only when we have a census.
Achilles is a freelance writer, homelessness and mental health advocate