10 October 2022 | Story Jean-Paul Pophaim and Kelebogile Olivier | Photo Supplied
Jean-Paul Pophiam and Kelebogile Oliver
Jean-Paul Pophaim, left, and Kelebogile Olivier is the Secretary of the University of the Free State Women’s Forum.

Opinion article by Jean-Paul Pophaim and Kelebogile Olivier, lecturers in the Department of Criminology, University of the Free State.
Homelessness as a complex social issue can be witnessed across the globe and South Africa is no exception. With the current dire socioeconomic state of our country, the growth of the homeless population is expected to continue on an upward trajectory. With the lack of social support and the exponential growth of unemployment and poverty rates – many more will inevitably endure this precipitous fall into homelessness. Without reliable statistics, the South African homeless population is estimated to be somewhere between 100 000 and 200 000 individuals. These estimates are believed to be much higher due to the high mobility and transient nature of members of the homeless population. October 10 2022 marks the 12th Annual World Homeless Day. Its main purpose is to draw attention to the needs of people experiencing homelessness and to get relevant stakeholders and communities involved in discussions around ways to respond to this growing challenge. Although this is a noble cause, it should be highlighted that the daily struggles many homeless individuals face are far too complex and a single day a year is not enough time to discuss and give enough attention to homelessness. 

The plight of the homeless 

The status of homelessness is often met with a lot of negativity, discrimination and stigmatisation. Many people are of the opinion that being homeless is a choice, that all homeless individuals are mentally challenged, suffer from substance- and alcohol-abuse disorders and are inherently dangerous individuals who should be avoided at all costs and kept away from mainstream society. Furthermore, the homeless are often forced to exist in social isolation, excluded from all basic social services and even denied their basic human rights. The homeless are also confronted by a number of challenges which include but are not limited to, having to endure the elements, whether it is a cold winter’s night, or a wet rainy day, with no shelter and virtually nowhere else to go. Many homeless individuals also suffer from chronic health issues, most of which are treatable (such as diabetes, high blood pressure). The lack of income is another critical challenge – roaming around, not sure where the next meal will come from. In conjunction to these daily struggles, homeless individuals are forced to endure many of them are extremely vulnerable to repeated and multiple forms of victimisation. Men, women, the elderly and children of all ages, races and backgrounds are extremely vulnerable to all kinds of perpetrators and crimes, ranging from common robbery, assault, rape and even murder while roaming the street. The homeless often receive the short end of the stick as many believe that one’s experience of homelessness is self-inflicted and temporary. Many fail to acknowledge the homeless as victims of crime, due to the insurmountable stigma attached to these individuals – homeless individuals are often cast aside as the undeserving – due to the negative stereotypes and misconceptions that exist. As a result, many are not able to procure the most basic services to help make their lives a little bit easier. 

Lack of access to support services for the homeless

We live in a country that is governed by perhaps one of the most sophisticated and progressive pieces of legislation in the world, our constitution. Enshrined in our constitution is that the rights of all citizens should be afforded in every single aspect of our existence. Yet, sadly, the homeless often fall short of what the constitution regards as every single citizen in the republic – as many of them do not enjoy the same rights as the next person, from the sheltered population. In some cases, the status of homelessness is criminalised through the implementation of bylaws and indirect anti-homeless signage – prohibiting their entry to certain public spaces – further ostracising and casting them aside as others who are not welcome to exist in the same domain as the rest of the population. This forces them to live in complete isolation and fear of the very system intended to protect and serve their rights and needs. Besides not having access to basic shelter, many homeless individuals do not have the correct documentation to be assisted by these various support structures, and to get a new or temporary identity document, for example, is even more challenging, due to their lack of funds, or the unwillingness of home affairs officials to assist. Furthermore, homeless individuals are in most cases, afraid of the police – due to negative past experiences, whether these experiences involve acts of victimisation – or an experience where they were not taken seriously. Many homeless individuals are not able to access the most minimum standard of care from most healthcare institutions. Street children are often excluded from the education system, which further exacerbates the problems associated with lack of education, lack of employment and the lack of the ability to earn an income in order to procure affordable, adequate and safe housing. Shelters are virtually the only means of assistance, a lifeline so to say, and their limited capacity does not allow them to assist enough homeless people.  
What is required and what can you do?

The reduction of homelessness requires a concerted multisectoral approach in order to see any real results – which, unfortunately does not seem to be on the agenda of most governmental institutions. There are a number of shelters who are currently picking up the slack in order to support these individuals with food, clothing and ablution facilities. Without regular funding and support from the government, this selfless operation cannot be considered sustainable and will soon cease to exist – leaving many dependants without any other options. Members of the general public are urged to donate and try and support local shelters and soup kitchens – so as to give and help responsibly. With support from donations and volunteers, it becomes possible to provide a warm meal, warm blankets, clothing and other necessities. If you are in the position to assist, please see the contact information below and feel free to donate as much and as often as you can.

Kidz Care Trust
Marita van Kraayenburg
082 775 2770
Towers of Hope
De la Harpe Le Roux
Anchor of Hope (Men’s Shelter)
Jannie Louw
060 466 1564

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty” ~ Mother Teresa 

• Olivier is also Secretary of the University of the Free State Women’s Forum

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