In response to the further easing of lockdown regulations, homeless shelters are facing the dilemma of how to sustainably exit beneficiaries who have been housed in the overnight shelters for the past six months. The MEC of Gauteng Department of Social Development (DSD), MMC of City of Johannesburg (COJ) and their delegation visited Mould Empower Serve (MES) yesterday (14th September 2020), where they expressed their gratitude for the good work MES does and discussed the way forward regarding the challenges facing the metropolitan cities in the province.
According to statistics from the citywide outreaches conducted, it is conservatively estimated that Johannesburg has a population of at least 15 000 homeless people. The population that experiences homelessness in our city is a heterogeneous group, and includes single individuals, families with children (not visible and in small numbers) and unaccompanied run-away or homeless youth. Homelessness is a growing problem in the city and substance abuse within this constituency has put a strain on traditional responses, demanding the emergence of more innovative transformative responses that are community-based and driven.
Leona Pienaar, CEO of Mould Empower Serve (MES) engages with the Gauteng Department of Social Development (DSD) during a special visit toMES’ Impilo Shelter yesterday.
The Gauteng MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi highlighted: “COVID-19 is still here and people are still getting infected and still dying, so we need to ensure that we continue to comply with regulations until such time that it subsides. Everyone must play their part”. MMC of the COJ, Eunice Mgcina expressed thanks to the partners and also raised concerns about the homelessness in the city, stating that the COJ will look at ways to further engage with NPO partners on how best to handle the situation.
Both MEC and MMC raised key questions to the NPO partners present and agreed to set up a date for further engagement on issues such as funding, skills development and job placement for the homeless, as well as additional options for shelter expansion.
Nonhlanhla Mthimkhulu; DSD Regional Director presented the full report covering statistics on shelter occupancy, reasons for fluctuating numbers at homeless shelters, family reunifications, drug rehabilitation interventions, empowerment programmes, financial implications, challenges and recommendations. The MES shelters successfully served 195 beneficiaries at their peak and offered three nutritious meals per day, sanitation and beds, as well as health screenings for COVID-19. A special isolation centre was setup on the premises at Impilo to isolate beneficiaries who were found COVID-19 positive.
Gauteng DSD MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi admires the hand-knitted blankets by the clients at the Impilo Women’s Shelter during the lockdown.
Facilitated by Bheki Sibeko, Acting Executive Head at COJ, the discussions were centred around a full report on progress achieved by MES and partnering NPOs during the lockdown period to date. “What is sad is that COVID-19 brought peace and serenity to the streets of Joburg – there was nobody begging. But with the levels relaxed, the streets are back to where they were and many people can’t distinguish between criminals and beggars. The city and the province is looking up to social development to do something about it,” said Sibeko.
CEO of MES, Leona Pienaar stated that one of the key challenges they faced was how to help beneficiaries with mental illness, which became a huge problem during the lockdown. She highlights however that COVID-19 was proof of the magnitude of impact that can be achieved when various partners pool resources together for a common cause. “It was to us a huge relief to have SANCA, Home Affairs and other partners journey with us so that we could collectively address this problem of homelessness in our city, because it is a multi-layered problem. We really want to express our thanks for all the support from the COJ and the DSD especially since the first day of lockdown,” she says.
According to MES, the communication and availability of DSD officials at both regional and provincial offices has been exceptional and they were physically available for any discussion or meeting even during level 5 and 4 of the lockdown. This enabled MES as an organisation to deliver the services to the homeless as expected and they have established solid relationships with both regional and provincial DSD offices.