Desperate people turned away as Government sits on special needs housing policy

Residents enjoy lunch at the Oasis Group Home for people with intellectual disabilities in Cape Town. Such places are few but there is a need for many.

Desperate people turned away for lack of space. Many quad and paraplegics can’t be cared for well enough at home.Why is Government sitting on the National Special Needs Housing Programme? 

“It feels inhumane to have to turn them away due to the lack of space!” This is the response of a house mother at a ‘safe house’ in Stellenbosch who cares for women fleeing battering husbands. Such statements are echoed across the country by carers of the most vulnerable among us; orphans, older people; those with disabilities; victims of domestic violence; terminally ill and frail people; destitute people; those receiving substance abuse rehabilitation services; parolees and people released on probation and victims of serious crime and human trafficking. That’s a wide swath of people and affects community work we all applaud.

“Women normally arrive accompanied by a police officer who takes them to a safe house,” said the house mother, “imagine this woman standing in front of our door with a bleeding lip and a black eye clutching her terrified children by the hand, desperate for help and in urgent need of a safe alternative home. We realise all the courage and desperation it took to take this step and this makes it inhumane to have to turn them away. We will squash up women to make space for them, but there is a limit.”

Official approval awaited
They have insufficient space because the Minister of Human Settlement is sitting on the official approval of a Special Housing Needs Programme (SHNP) policy. This is the vehicle by which capital funding for new housing and refurbishments for needy people can go forward. It’s been stagnating for nearly 9 months. 

Ari Sierlis, CEO of the QuadPara Association says, “Many quadriplegics and paraplegics living in their own home environment are not well cared for, not as a result of the lack of love and compassion, but rather the expense and expertise which is necessary for the correct health and wellness of people with spinal cord injury. This policy,” he says, “needs to be implemented urgently to allow existing facilities the opportunity to scale their services and also for new facilities to be developed.”

One welfare organisation has been given land in various provinces but they cost money in rates and taxes and may have to be sold if they cannot be developed for the purpose for which they were given. The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has taken up the cudgels and is pressing to bring attention to this issue that has been under deliberation for 15 years. Having received Ministry approval at a forum in March, the draft programme is yet to be subjected to the policy approval and decision-making process. The Minister of Human Settlements, (DHS) Lindiwe Sisulu, has failed to put it on the agenda of four approval platforms that have taken place since then. When asked why the hold up, the Minister dodged the issue by describing the process but not explaining why. The development of the policy revealed ways that these group housing facilities can be provided via the DHS at a quarter to one third of the regular construction costs (still meeting norms and standards) and can be operated and managed by NPOs for far less than if it done so by government. People involved perceive that to government, housing needs of those who require special care are less equitable than others and receive less priority (to which this legislation holdup stands testimony) than high profile megaprojects like Cornobia, Gateway or housing projects in mining towns. 

In calling on Government to prioritise its urgent approval and implementation ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley said “much of the unnecessary human suffering we see all over our nation could be alleviated by the approval and implementation of this policy. We urge government to prioritise it.” 

This issue is worthy of being spotlighted. Every letter to the Editor of this and other major media newsrooms by concerned people will bring the time closer when doors are opened to needy people and they are welcomed with “Come in!”


  1. As an executive of the National Shelter Movement of South Africa, it pains me to witness the realities in the women’s sheltering sector on a daily bases.
    1. Shelters have to turn
    mothers and their children away, due to being full.
    2. When women have to exit the shelter, they have no place to go to, the only alternative is back to the abusive environment! Very often, the abuse gets worse as this women is now empowered and knows her rights. This is the fastest erosion of the investment that was been made by the NGO and The Department of Social Development. The Minister of Human Settlements needs to explain what the reasons are for the delay in approving this policy. In the mean time she is enabling human suffering.

  2. The failure of the Department and Minister of Human Settlements to give approval to enabling policy for special needs housing for highly vulnerable persons, 9 months after the draft policy was passed by a national stakeholders’ forum, is inexcusable. For 14 years, KZN Human Settlements has been supporting such needy projects while the National Department shouted “irregular expenditure” but took no action. We have two projects, Khayalethu Shelter for Street Children, and Sunset Overnight Shelter for street homeless adults, that have been waiting for a moratorium on new funding to be lifted. The facilities could face closure if funding is not secured imminently. It took us two years to have the local municipality acknowledge the need for the projects in their Integrated Development Plan — because social development is not a local government competency — and now we are faced with provincial government not budgeting for special needs in their business plan for another whole year. It is a disaster. Cameron Brisbane, Executive Director, Built Environment Support Group.