RESTORING HUMAN DIGNITY THROUGH ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS

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By Busi Kheswa

  • Acknowledging every individual’s inherent dignity, it’s crucial for society, including the state, to ensure homeless individuals receive support and resources for dignified living.
  • The state, as mandated by the Bill of Rights, must protect citizens’ rights to safe and affordable housing. Efforts are needed to prevent street homelessness and integrate individuals into supportive environments, fostering societal stability and cohesion.
  • The Gauteng Government has prioritised addressing homelessness through strategic interventions, including mobile services like the wash bus, linking individuals to essential services, skills development, and employment opportunities, emphasising holistic support for vulnerable populations.

Every individual possesses inherent dignity and worth. Homeless individuals, often facing systemic issues, personal struggles, and unfortunate circumstances, lack stable housing. It’s a moral imperative for society, including the state, to ensure they receive the support and resources necessary to live with dignity.

As enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the state must respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the rights of all citizens to a safe, secure, and affordable place to call home, including those who are homeless. A concerted effort is necessary to address homelessness, ensuring that individuals do not return to life on the streets but are supported and integrated into families and communities. It is unacceptable for people to sleep on the streets. Everyone experiencing homelessness should be entitled to support, regardless of their background, so that all individuals have a safe, stable place to live.

According to homelessworldcup.org, high rates of homelessness can destabilise communities. It can lead to increased crime rates, strain public resources, and contribute to social unrest. By addressing homelessness, the state helps foster a more stable and cohesive society.

Preventing street homelessness is a key challenge and a priority that the Gauteng Government has to deal with to ensure that all citizens enjoy their human rights and that the vulnerable are treated with respect and dignity. Homelessness is one of the elevated priorities of the Provincial Government and therefore there is a concerted effort to intensify the programme.

The Executive Council approved the Framework for the Gauteng Intervention Plan in the 2020/21 financial year, which was thereafter translated into the Gauteng City Region Strategy on Adult Street Homelessness in September 2021. The strategy aims to prevent and eliminate homelessness through the provision of integrated care, support and protection services to street homeless people and their families.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development has responded to a call by the Premier to expand services to the homeless by introducing a drop-in mobile service to restore the dignity of the homeless. Working in collaboration with other stakeholders, the Department has been able to provide shelters and support homeless people through education and awareness campaigns, service delivery blitz, skills development, job placement, and psycho-social programmes.

This expansion is an addition to an already existing package of assistance to the homeless, including homeless shelters in regions, provision of daily meals for the homeless, social work services, link to skills development, substance abuse rehabilitation, family reunification, etc.

The mobile service is in line with Pillar 1 of the Gauteng City Region Strategy on Street Adult Homelessness which is advocacy, awareness, or prevention of crisis and early intervention. The service will go out to different locations daily, will provide access to bathrooms, ablution, and laundry services and link them with other services such as access to shelters and social work interventions.

The wash bus and office will be pulled by a vehicle to the identified homeless hotspots. This will take place in parks, open areas, under bridges, and on streets where the homeless community resides. The beneficiaries will be linked with skills development and employment opportunities through the Department of Labour. Those who require identity and other related documents will be assisted by the Department of Home Affairs. Social Development will extend psychosocial support, including basic screening and assessment of homeless people, referral to relevant homeless shelters, and other related services such as rehabilitation facilities.

Bearing testimony to the program and its impact, Michael Rasebokoa (25), who resides in Wembley Stadium Homeless Shelter in Turffontein, said he has acquired computer skills and job placement in the shelter. Rasebokoa, who is from the Free State, holds a Business Administration qualification and has worked as a waiter in a restaurant. Unfortunately, his job ended, and he found himself homeless. It was through a referral from one of the NPOs that he found himself in this shelter. “I am grateful for the opportunities that the Gauteng Department of Social Development has afforded me. The NPOs that are funded by the Department have made it possible for me to secure a job. I am currently working as a Financial Advisor in Discovery Financial Services in Sandton.”

This intervention serves as a reminder that while it may be tough, taking care of your personal hygiene can help you feel better physically and emotionally, and it’s an important aspect of self-care, regardless of your circumstances. Ensuring that the homeless have access to hygiene facilities and social welfare services is not only a matter of basic human rights but also contributes to public health, social inclusion, and economic stability.

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