City of Johannesburg pledges to tackle homelessness – SAPeople

David van Niekerk of the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership addresses a group of delegates at a two-day meeting on homelessness in Brixton. Photo: Chris Gilili

Around 200 people gathered at the Brixton Multipurpose Center on Thursday for the first day of the National Conversation on Homelessness.

There were representatives from the City of Johannesburg, the Gauteng Provincial Government and non-governmental organizations. There were also homeless people.

The event is organized by the Johannesburg Homelessness Network (JHN) and supported by the city. It ends Friday.

Matome Makgoba of the City of Johannesburg explained that the city “cannot do it alone”. He called for support to “help homeless people move on to the next stage of their lives”.

Gauteng MEC for Social Development Mbali Hlophe told the audience that the problem is that homeless people have always been treated as invisible in society. “Nobody wants to see homeless people. Even when they approach our robot cars, we will close their window. We have to recognize that they exist and we cannot avoid that.

She spoke about the need to address drug addiction among the homeless. She also said food security is a priority to address homelessness. She said the provincial government was trying to introduce work for the homeless in agriculture and construction.

But some have expressed skepticism.

Francus Palm of the Ekurhuleni Homeless Forum raised concerns about the government’s approach. He said there were no performance indicators to deal with homelessness for a specific department.

“There is no single person to handle homelessness issues,” Palm said. He singled out Home Affairs for his inability to be available to meet.

Professor Stephan De Beer of the University of Pretoria said that instead of blaming homelessness on the people who experience it, we should see it as a failure of the state.

Last month, GroundUp reported that the city of Johannesburg estimates that it has around 15,000 homeless people. There are, however, only four government-run homeless shelters.

National Homelessness Network chairman Chris Mund said he has identified unused buildings in Johannesburg that could be used as shelters.

Mayco Health and Social Development member Ronald Harris seemed to agree. “We have to confront the system that makes it difficult for people to access City-owned buildings.”

Harris said the city will develop plans to better manage homelessness. “From next week we will be taking to the streets of Johannesburg to talk to homeless people, ask them how they ended up on the streets and how we can help them.”

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