Ethekwini Metropolitan Municipality Acting Head of Safer Cities Unit Bongumusa Zondo says homelessness has been identified as one of the main challenges facing the city.  According Zondo this is particularly visible in the Central Business District of Durban.

“ We also notice that under the bridges along the highways we have got people living there, we see them in the morning changing to go and look for particular opportunities to enhance their lives. “

This month the spotlight is on human rights as South Africa marks Human Rights Month. According to the Constitution everyone has a right to adequate housing. The Bill of Rights further outlines that everyone has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.

In 2016 the city together with the Human Sciences Research Council embarked on a census to count the number of homeless people in the Durban CBD.

“We counted the number of people that were on the street or in the shelters of Durban within a particular period of time. If you were either sleeping physically on the street and you have self-identified as homeless and also in shelters, (we found) 3933 people that were either in the shelters or on the streets, the split was about 50 % of those living in the streets and 50% of them we found in shelters,” says HRSC’s Specialist Researcher Dr Candice Rule Groenewald.

People who are homeless struggle to access basic services which infringes on their human rights.

“One of the key findings was that many of the homeless people felt that they were being treated as outsiders, as people that are not part of the community. I suppose what is urgent for us is around just getting people to treat people who are homeless as human beings, is one thing they were asking for.  They were asking to be treated as human beings,” says Groenewald.

The study revealed substance abuse, dysfunctional families and unemployment as some of the factors leading to homelessness.

“There are a couple of factors that contribute to people’s pathways to homelessness, the main things that we found were actually challenges at home, people leaving home because there were family dysfunctions, family fights, substance abuse is one the things that came about, either using substances at the time we spoke to the people, or having had used substances and leaving home because of substance abuse. People see Durban as the place to find employment, many of the people came to Durban to secure a job,” says Groenewald.

Zondo says the city is working to get people off the streets and solve their problems.

“The municipality is working in different programmes including a programme which addresses substance abuse called Qalakabusha. In the city centre we have a dropping centre that we have identified where they (the homeless) can come and be assisted in various ways. “