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Women who experienced chronic homelessness still suffer from stigmas that block their chances to be employed in the open labour market.

You will not understand homelessness until it happens to you. By the way, it can happen to anyone. What has been really heart haunting, is how misinformed our communities and corporate world are when it comes to homelessness.

According to SA Stats Q1 2023, black African and coloured women continue to be the most vulnerable, with black Africans having an unemployment rate of 39.9% while coloureds are at 22.4%. There is a lack of research or clear data to back this, but black African and coloured women are mostly affected by homelessness in South Africa.

As non-government organisations that assist individuals with skills to overcome homelessness, we should work hard to bridge the gap on the employability of women who experienced homelessness.

We need to conduct workshops where we invite key stakeholders from the corporate world, so we could map how we re-integrate a formerly homeless person in the open labour market without all this discrimination towards those who once experienced living on the streets.

Level of education plays a vital role in the employability of unemployed persons. Unemployed persons with less than a matric level of education and matric qualification have a higher likelihood of being in long-term unemployment as opposed to tertiary level qualifications.

Through the work we do at U-Turn, I hardly meet women in our programme who do not have matric certificates or certificates from higher education and training institutions. But nonetheless, they still struggle to secure employment.

When one of our ladies was called for an interview in one of the big companies that advertised some vacancies, she was asked if she could be trusted because the street people steal for survival.

While she politely answered this offending question, she had already established she wouldn’t get the job because her experience of being homeless overshadowed her capabilities in the eyes of those who are in positions to hire people.

Her qualifications, her work ethic, her excellent work experience and good management skills did not matter to those who knew she went through U-Turn’s four-phase programme.

Even though U-Turn has played a huge role in increasing household incomes through evidence-based employment supports such as training, support for job search and transportation, and providing outreach to help those experiencing homelessness sign up for eligible benefits, demystifying stereotypes towards homeless women is a struggle that isn’t yielding the expected results.

Formerly homeless women are not criminals, unreliable and incapable.

People should stop deciding on people’s future without fully understanding their journey.

For example, U-Turn’s spokesperson, Cathy Achilles, made a bad business decision when her company collapsed and was forced her to vacate her flat as she couldn’t pay rent and bills.

A woman who has travelled the world, presented in big conferences around the globe, became homeless and had to start afresh in life. Would it be fine for her to be blocked from getting employment opportunities because she was once homeless? No.

A new study by the University of California San Francisco does a lot of heavy lifting to dispel harmful myths about homelessness. The study found that homeless people are perceived as lazy, uneducated, and don’t want housing.

The study further found that most people who are unhoused in California lost their homes because they couldn’t afford their rent. They were also unaware of the programmes and services available to them. Plus, the trauma they suffered while on the streets was a factor that kept them from leaving the streets behind.

Similarly, to the South African context, most homeless people were once successful and had a structured life until life took a sharp turn.

To address unemployment among the formerly homeless women, the corporate world needs to have a comprehensive look at the causes and consequences of homelessness in South Africa. Women deserve opportunities for the sustainability of their livelihood.

Homelessness is not permanent, it’s a life circumstance that shouldn’t hinder women from employability and success in the labour market. Siwaphiwe Myataza- Mzantsi, U-turn Homeless Ministries

Originally published in the Cape Times newspaper on 4 August 2023

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