COVID-19 has had a grave impact on livelihoods all over the country, particularly on those who are disadvantaged. Simultaneously, the virus has rocked South Africa’s economy, triggering a funding crisis for already under-funded NGOs when they are needed most.
Many South Africans are going hungry and general desperation is increasing, as our expanded definition of unemployment reaches an all-time high of 43.1%. According to the latest figures released by Stats SA, the number of unemployed people rose by 2.2 million to 6.5 million between the second and third quarters in 2020, and EWN recently reported that 47% of households ran out of money to buy food in May and June last year.
As a result, Cape Town’s homeless population has skyrocketed, with an estimated 14,357 homeless individuals living on the streets of Cape Town. In a recent study, U-turn, Khulisa Streetscapes and MES calculated the cost of homelessness in Cape Town and found that currently over R744 million is spent on this societal challenge, with a significant R286 million being spent on criminal justice costs alone.
This figure was calculated through a survey, where data on the number of arrests, the number of court appearances, time in prison and time on parole of homeless individuals was collected.
In response to these findings, U-Turn, Khulisa Streetscapes and MES have united to form a Coalition to End Homelessness. While each of the founding organisations is well-established with a reliable track record in developmental and rehabilitation solutions that help reduce homelessness, the Coalition is calling for more effective investment into the sector by society at large. The organisations believe that current spending requires a shift from reactive solutions to long-term solutions to reduce homelessness and reduce the current total financial and social cost.
Rowan Ravera-Bauer, strategic partnership development manager at U-Turn, states in an article by News24: “The urgency of the situation around COVID-19 and a growing consciousness in the community about the desperate need for a meaningful solution means that this partnership has become more defined recently and more purpose-driven.”
The NGOs have committed to a rehabilitation model as opposed to short-term welfare, and are actively encouraging all stakeholders in the sector, including the government, shelters and feeding schemes, to incorporate rehabilitation programmes to support their short-term relief.
For us to create an environment and nurture a community in which all are given an opportunity to lead a good life, it is necessary that we take ownership of our neighbourhoods and the challenges they face, and do our part to take care of them. We can no longer wait for someone else to step in.
So, how can we get involved and assist the vulnerable within our communities, while simultaneously working toward keeping public spaces clean and free of criminal activity?
CEO of the GP/OKCID, Marc Truss, says: “When addressing The City’s homelessness and vagrancy issues, we must encourage those who are willing to give to do so responsibly. At the GP/OKCID, we believe that this problem can only be addressed by working towards a common long-term solution, and urge residents to assist the NGOs working towards this, giving those in need a ‘hand up’, rather than a ‘hand out’.”
To start, we can educate ourselves about responsible giving and encourage collaboration among our peers. Responsible giving is when you put people in need in touch with the relevant support and rehabilitation services. Rowan goes on to explain that, “when someone approaches you on the street and you give them money, you potentially fuel their addiction. Giving cans of food is not much better, because you simply make them dependent on you.”
The homelessness epidemic is a daunting and overwhelming task to tackle at face-value. Partnering with and supporting our local NGOs is incremental in helping the disadvantaged overcome the challenges brought about by COVID-19.
To raise awareness around the plight of people living on our streets, the City of Cape Town has launched the Give Dignity initiative. The initiative emphasises the importance of giving those in need a “hand up rather than a hand-out”, calling on those in a position to contribute to help make a difference in somebody’s life.
All donations made towards the Give Dignity initiative will go to a local NGO that has been vetted by the City, to give you peace of mind that your efforts are going to a worthy cause, such as our local Haven Night Shelter on Napier Street. Find out more about they do here. Your donation can help someone meet their basic needs by providing a meal, a night in a warm bed, or providing masks and hand sanitiser, as well as go toward rehabilitation and reintegration strategies.
This challenge must be approached with compassion and empathy. So, let’s embrace the spirit of community and help those who are battling the harsh conditions of our streets in isolation, to help create a more positive community.