Race to get homeless people off the streets in bid to curb spread of COVID-19

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Close to 500 homeless people have been taken to various shelters in Mpumalanga since the beginning of the national lockdown. Social Development MEC Thandi Shongwe has raised concerns that some are refusing to be taken off the streets.

She says some are aggressive due to substance abuse addiction.

More than 25 centres in the province have been prepared to accommodate homeless people during the national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. While some of the homeless people volunteered to be taken to the centres, others refused.

The homeless people have been provided with blankets and toiletries, among other things. One of them says they came to Mbombela to look for work, but ended up living on the streets.

“Home is Piet Retief and I came here for job, it is difficult; that is how I ended up in street. No jobs and then ended up washing cars there at the bottom for a living because no one wants to sleep hungry.”

The Department of Social Development says the homeless people will not only be kept at the centres, but they will also be screened and provided with any medical assistance they may require.

MEC Shongwe says they will work with law enforcement officers to ensure that all homeless people are placed in places of safety for the entire duration of the national lockdown.

“We are just there to look for the homeless people, we’re taking them into shelters and they will stay there for the whole 21 days declared by the President as a lockdown. We want everybody to comply because we want them to be safe. We don’t want anyone to die of the coronavirus; whether you’ve got a home, whether you are homeless, the government must take care of you and make sure that you are safe.”

Shongwe has encouraged residents and the private sector to donate food, blankets, toiletries and other items that may be of help to the homeless.

KZN NGOs lend a helping hand

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in KwaZulu-Natal have taken it upon themselves to help homeless people by giving them temporary shelters.

More than 1 200 homeless people in Durban and surrounding areas have been scanned and sent to shelters in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Chairperson for Homeless People at the Dennis Hurley Centre Raymond Perier says the scanning of homeless people will conclude on Sunday.

“We have now seen over 1 400 and there are possibilities of seeing another and we process them at the DEC. Everyone have gone health screening and the intake process by the department social development and taken to shelters. Each shelter has only 100 because we avoid large group.”

Perier says the challenge is that some escape and go back to the street, but they try and trace them and return them to the shelters.

“Yes, there are basic challenges of getting things and we have a problem of getting them things as we need more blankets and we rely on the government procurement system. We also have challenge of frustration and people are taken to shelters and they are trying to go back to the system. But when people are found wondering on the street are taken back to the center of the shelter.”

He says they educate the homeless about the coronavirus and the purpose of the lockdown.

“Homeless sometimes don’t understand the risk of the virus and there are many who have been doing things they shouldn’t do and that can put their lives at risk. We try to explain that once they are in a shelter, they must not move. Another challenge is that other people have been addicted to alcohol or drugs and it obvious they are going to withdraw and their concern is not the virus, but their concern is to get their thing.”

Perier has confirmed that thus far no homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Durban. – Additional reporting by Khalesakhe Mbense. 

In the video below, some homeless people are still without shelter amid the nationwide lockdown: