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The recent heart-breaking incident of the Johannesburg building fire that killed more than 70 people, including 12 children, has sparked a necessary debate about the prevalence of homelessness in the city of Johannesburg.

Some people who lived in the building were homeless, therefore had to rent space from tenants in the corridors of the building to have a place they could call home. Although law enforcement has been scrutinised for indisputable gaps and shortfalls, the bigger concern is what the government is doing to address the challenge of homelessness in the inner city.

Earlier this year, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi tabled the State of the Province Address, and expressed that through the Presidential Youth Employment Stimulus programme, the province had provided more than 100 000 youth with workplace experiences.

We now need to establish evidence-based programmes for homeless individuals, as this will play a huge role in redeeming the inner city’s demeanour, and preserving infrastructure.

When people don’t have a place to hide their head, they find themselves hijacking buildings because their survival mode voice screams louder than the mind that upholds and complies with laws and principles. The culture of hijacking buildings by people who have no place to stay, is one huge challenge in Gauteng.

As a homeless civil organisation, we commend the R2 billion the premier allocated to the non-government sector to fight social ills and care for the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poor. We hold a view that Gauteng will drastically thrive once it addresses homelessness.

Addressing and reducing homelessness is not only about the dignity packs programmes in which vulnerable street people are given deodorant, sanitary towels, clothes, blankets and food, but are about multi-phase programmes that will equip them with proper skills to overcome homelessness.

U-Turn Homeless Ministries provides a comprehensive 360-degree rehab package that gives street people, who have experienced several years of chronic homelessness, access to personal growth programmes that empower them to overcome homelessness, and ultimately secure and maintain a job in the open labour market.

The organisation believes that to address homelessness, the government and civil organisations must introduce long-term and permanent solutions, not only handouts. That is why the organisation will launch a Mi-Change voucher system on October 10 where homeless people can get a hot meal and an item of clothing at all U-Turn service centres in Johannesburg. This will also be their step towards getting help to leave the streets permanently, through being admitted to U-Turns Change-Readiness programme.

Gauteng is one of the provinces that has a high number of street people. If you walk around the city, it is impossible to not be struck by the number of homeless people. These are permanent residents of the streets with nowhere else to stay, other than bedding down for the night in shop doorways, under bridges, in parks, and other public spaces.

We therefore believe the first oath for the Gauteng premier in repositioning Gauteng will have to be reducing and addressing homelessness by partnering with civil organisations such as U-Turn Homeless Ministries, and many other multidisciplinary teams of social workers, homeless support workers, occupational therapists, counsellors, trainers, and life coaches.

Over the past 24 years, U-turn has refined a phased programme that journeys from phase one, “change-readiness”, which provides basic needs alongside group therapy and workshops to prepare clients for phase two, “Drug and Alcohol rehabilitation support”. This is followed by phase three, “work-readiness”, which provides work experience, training and ongoing relapse prevention. Finally, clients graduate to phase four, with independent employment and an after-care programme. Through this programme, more than 80% of graduates, for the past 4 years, have remained sober, housed and employed. – Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzantsi

Originally published in The Star on 7 September 2023

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