Covid-19: Homeless in PE ask what will happen after the lockdown is lifted

“We can’t just let them go back to the streets like that” says social development MEC

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Photo of a group of people in a hall
A number of people who were living on the streets of Port Elizabeth are being housed in the Daku community hall as part of the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Joseph Chirume

“I can feel that I am a human being now. Life in the streets is not good, because there is too much violence,” says Nazeera Abrahams, 23, who has been homeless and living in central Port Elizabeth.

She is now staying in the Daku Community Hall, one of four facilities authorities have established since the Covid-19 lockdown to house 377 homeless people in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

“I managed to forge a relationship with other homeless people in this hall and I request the government to assist us after the end of the lockdown. They should not dump us back to the streets again. I would like to have a job and raise my unborn baby,” said Abrahams, who is pregnant.

Eastern Cape Social Development MEC Siphokazi Lusithi said, “Two more shelters are being prepared in Port Elizabeth Central. This will take the total number to six. We keep receiving more homeless people.”

Lusithi said negotiations were underway to facilitate programmes for homeless people when they are eventually released from the halls. “We can’t just let them go back to the streets like that. They need to be assisted in order for them to move forward,” she said.

Before he came to Daku hall, Antonio Arendse, from Bethelsdorp, was surviving by guarding the cars of shoppers at Pier 14.

“Life in the hall is smart and we get regular meals. We also bath and there is a mini library with books and newspapers to read. However, this will come to an end when the lockdown is no more. The government should assist us. I don’t want to go and guard people’s cars anymore because it’s very dangerous with criminals,” he said.

But fights were common and bullying rife at the hall according to some youngsters who spoke to GroundUp.

“Most of our belongings that we brought here have been stolen. There is no action taken even if we report to the officials,” one young person told GroundUp.

Another one said, “When we arrived at the centre we were provided with cutlery and toiletries but there are criminals within us who have stolen them and sold the goods to the local community. They use the money to buy drugs causing problems in the hall at night.”

But Lusithi said the authorities had managed to curb violence and disorder at Daku. “It was a challenge initially to control the occupants … These are adult people who are used to enjoy various freedoms. So it took time for them to adapt to a new life of living in one big room where they are constantly watched by security guards,” said the MEC.

Lusithi said the main problem was caused by people sneaking out at night.

“We resolved this by ramping up our security at the main entrance gate,” she said. The South African Police Service and the Metro Police now routinely conduct searches.

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TOPICS:  Covid-19 Homeless Housing

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