The City of Johannesburg has only three shelters that are meant to assist over 15,000 homeless and displaced people living in the hub of the country’s economy. They are Windsor West shelter, and the 1 Dan Street shelter and Kotze Street shelter situated in Hillbrow, very close to Constitution Hill. The Kotze Street shelter is not accessible according to some homeless people Elitsha spoke to as it charges an R8 entry fee to spend the night.
According to Ayanda Radebe from Joburg’s communication department, “the estimated number of homeless people across the city is at 15,000 but we have since seen an increase in the numbers due to loss of employment during the hard lockdown. The city cannot work alone in providing services to homeless people which is why intergovernmental relations are important
“ … and the city is thus partnering with the Gauteng Department of Social Development which is currently funding NGOs which are providing outreach and shelter services to homeless people across the city.
The city through JPC [Johannesburg Property Company] continuously identifies buildings and land throughout the city for the purpose of conversion into homeless shelters and/or safe spaces or sleeping zones,” Radebe told Elitsha.
A total of 2,400 displaced persons were removed by law enforcement agencies and SANDF from the city streets, way above the existing bed spaces available at the shelters. “As a result, five recreation centres in Region F were activated as Covid-19 temporary homeless shelters. As the lockdown level eased many homeless people chose to go back to the streets due to defiance of rules and regulations. Many were also connected with their families and friends through the displaced persons programmes,” said Radebe.
Benny Kudumela hails from Limpopo, and has been staying in Rissik Street near Park Station for the past two years. “Life on the streets is very tough I can tell you. I left home in 2018 early to seek greener pastures in Johannesburg, I came here with a friend. But in some way things turned for the worse… I got introduced to substance abuse and this has been my life.
“Given the chance to go to a rehabilitation centre, I would jump at that opportunity and clean up my life. Even at home I talk to them once in a while, they say if I can clean my ways and defeat the drugs they can welcome me with open hands and also support me,” says Kudumela.
He says while some homeless people were taken to shelters at the start of the pandemic, he was not so lucky. “It is hard here and probably we might be sick from Covid-19 but we are unaware. We share masks, we don’t sanitise and the issue of hygiene, we rarely bath. If lucky, I normally borrow a small basin from a lady who sells on the streets here and go bath in a water pond close to the train rail near Park Station. We are also not safe as anything can happen to you during the night,” he added.
Benny Kudumela says he has been living on the streets for the past two years.
Another young man resident near Cosatu House in Braamfontein is Sipho Mthimkhulu from the Vaal. He has been moving around Braamfontein for the past four years. He sleeps bare on the pavement without anything covering his head. “I would not blame anyone for being here. I left home because I used to get into trouble a lot. I left on my own accord. Life is really hard on the streets, I cannot lie, because you can get hurt. So given the chance I would go to a shelter. My biggest ambition is to beat the substance addiction and try to find my way back home again. There is no place like home. The life of begging for meals is not ideal,” said Mthimkhulu.
His only surviving family member is an older sister who is the breadwinner. “My sister doesn’t trust me around the house. Hence I have found a home in the streets of Joburg. It’s all because of my addiction. It’s not just about me loving drugs. This is a coping mechanism for most of us living on the streets,” he added.
Vaccination for the homeless
Radebe says currently the city is making plans to ensure all homeless people especially those without identity documents can access the Covid-19 vaccine. “The city is working in partnership with the Department of Health through the provincial Homeless Forum where all government departments are involved in developing appropriate programmes to support homeless people across the province. City of Johannesburg Health Promoters also work closely with the displaced persons staff to educate the homeless through outreach programmes for those on the streets and those temporarily accommodated in homeless shelters,” says Radebe.
According to the city spokesperson, a database of homeless people in shelters has been submitted to the Department of Health for vaccines to be arranged and the city is also working with advocacy groups who are calling for the vaccination of homeless people without any form of documentation.