Homeless complain of starving in city shelter

Hopelessness is written on the faces of homeless people at the City-run shelter. | Willem Phungula.

Hopelessness is written on the faces of homeless people at the City-run shelter. | Willem Phungula.

Published Mar 13, 2024


Durban — The DA in KwaZulu-Natal hopes that the plight of homeless people in the eThekwini Municipality will be discussed in the National Assembly.

Homeless people were placed in tents and halls by the municipality during Covid-19 in 2020. Since then, people claim they are still trapped in the appalling conditions of makeshift tents.

According to the DA in eThekwini, there are 18 000 homeless people in the city centre and the number is growing fast.

On Tuesday, the party’s delegation led by its spokesperson on Social Development in the legislature, Mmabatho Tembe, visited the Molyneux Road at the North Beach site.

Siviwe Gwarube MP, chief whip of the official opposition, said the focus of their oversight was on the crisis of homelessness in the city, a situation exacerbated by governmental failures to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

“Despite the establishment of a homeless shelter by the eThekwini Municipality, it was disheartening to witness its derelict condition. People in these areas struggle daily for food and water, worsened by budget cuts affecting NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and NPOs (non-profit organisations) that provide vital services to these communities,” Gwarube said.

Ethekwini Municipality’s DA councillors said they felt it was important to ask their leaders in the national assembly to have first-hand experience on issues they faced. Councillors claimed that their pleas to the municipality had fallen on deaf ears.

The shelter has several tents and many are torn. Inside each tent there are more than 20 beds; it is more like a hostel with no privacy. There are also about 10 mobile toilets, many full of sewage and the stench unbearable.

Inside the homeless shelter run by eThekwini municipality. | Willem Phungula.

According to some of the homeless, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being kicked out, the municipality was preventing NPOs from assisting them. They said the City had initially provided them with food but later stopped and now they were living on handouts.

One said they were threatened with dismissal from the centre if they spoke to anyone about problems there. He said the City removed their stoves and barred them from cooking at the centre.

Speaking to the media following an inspection, Tembe said that after the party councillors in the City informed her, she raised the matter with the provincial leadership, which agreed to seek national intervention.

Tembe’s concerns grew during finance MEC Peggy Nkonyeni’s budget speech, which revealed that NPOs would not receive an increase in subsidies because of budget cuts for Social Development. Tembe said this was bad news for homeless people and centres that depended on donations from NPOs in the province.

Gwarube vowed to bring the issue to the attention of the national assembly, saying the conditions were not good for human habitation.

Francois Rodgers, leader of the DA in the KZN Legislature, claimed that the government was deliberately starving homeless people.

He said there was no justification for cutting food supplies or preventing NPOs from donating food to the centre.

Rodgers said the abandoned government buildings in Durban should be used to house homeless people.

The DA also visited the homeless shelter Pay Less, which is run by a private NPO. The shelter charges R30 a day for people to sleep, which includes two meals a day, and it offers skills training.

DA national assembly chief whip Siviwe Gwarube listens to homeless people talking about their problems at the centre. | Willem Phungula.

eThekwini Mayoral spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa said this was a temporary shelter established as part of the Covid-19 response in 2020.

He said various interventions were undertaken, including but not limited to psychosocial support offered by social workers, drug rehabilitation, reunification, ID application programmes as well as skills development and job opportunities.

“Noting that the shelter is not meant to be a permanent place for the homeless, the City, through its partners City People eThekwini, has continued to offer services to all the three remaining shelters post Covid-19.”

He said the services included social work services, feeding, job opportunities and skills development.

“However, it should be noted that there are homeless people who do not want to co-operate with social workers and do not want to get involved in programmes that will assist them to get out of homelessness, for example, there is a food garden at the Jewish shelter (Sisonke Food Garden) that was established during Covid-19 and is manned by one homeless man and three women.

“The City is working tirelessly to ensure that most people achieve their independence and escape from homelessness,” Mntungwa said.

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