World Homeless Day [10 October 2020] is a fresh opportunity for the Eastern Cape Government to revisit the plight of the homeless and tackle some of the complex issues affecting these marginalised individuals.
During the national lockdown, the Department of Social Development in the Eastern Cape opened nine temporary homeless shelters in five districts in the Eastern Cape.
This presented the perfect opportunity to assist individuals with needs such as registering for an identity document to apply for a grant, providing assistance with admission to substance abuse rehabilitation centres or assisting with reunification with family members.
None of this was done. The Department cannot even provide accurate statistics of how many individuals were provided temporary shelter.
Responding to a parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance, Social Development MEC, Siphokazi Lusithi, said these shelters had housed 300 homeless by the end of June 2020.
Of these, according to the MEC, six were children, 37 women and 211 men. This raises serious questions about the record-keeping of the Department, as 46 individuals are unaccounted for.
SEE: IQP 17 Q393
These shelters have since been closed and the 254 to 300 individuals who were accommodated have been left to fend for themselves.
In an earlier response, MEC Lusithi said: “The Department will not be in a position to consider the establishment of permanent Shelters for the homeless since there is no legislation regulating the establishment of shelters for homeless persons.”
SEE: IQP 7 Q154
It is unfathomable that the Department has left the most destitute and vulnerable people, who do not have support systems, a supply of food or a roof over their heads, to fend for themselves.
While the Eastern Cape government deserts the homeless, the DA run Western Cape, in the 2018/19 financial year, increased bed space and funding of homeless shelters.
The DA-led City of Cape Town has established the Culemborg Safe Space, a transitional shelter that has space for up to 230 people, who are able to spend the night, access ablution facilities and securely store their belongings.
I am calling on the MEC to prioritise the issue of homelessness in our province, starting with the establishment of a homeless database. The province must do a full needs assessment, and vulnerable areas must be identified where urgent interventions can be made.
The MEC must instruct her Department to look into the establishment of 24-hour homeless shelters, where admission is allowed subject to strict restrictions to ensure law and order
If the MEC’s concern is about the lack of legislation regulating the establishment of shelters, perhaps, as a Member of the Executive Committee in the Legislature, she should consider starting the process of drafting legislation in this regard.