Homelessness: An opportunity to love and do good deeds

outloud title bar[notice]A monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.[/notice]

Winter is well and truly upon us. It is at this time of the year that I most appreciate my home, as I am sure you do, too. It provides shelter during chilly days and a warm (and, for the most part, safe) place to sleep at night. Living in Johannesburg, where I come face to face with need on a daily basis, my thoughts often turn to those less fortunate than myself, and particularly those who do not have a place to call home – the so-called ‘homeless’ amongst us – during the cold winter months.

‘Homelessness’ is a complex phenomenon requiring diverse interventions. Depending on your definition, ‘home’ may be a house, shelter, or dwelling or alternatively, a secure private place where residents are able to control its form and shape. The former definition is limited to those who are roofless, while the latter is broad enough to include not only those who are roofless but also those living in informal settlements, temporary housing and those who access overnight shelters. However, if one is to understand homelessness more completely, one cannot focus solely on the concept of a home or shelter. The psycho-socioeconomic drivers and outcomes of homelessness must also be considered. These include substance abuse, family dysfunction and conflict, mental and physical health issues, and criminal affiliation. Socio-economic factors include poverty, unemployment and a lack of social security and housing. It is important to consider the contributing factors and outcomes so that appropriate intervention strategies may be crafted in order to appropriately support the homeless. Such support includes treatment for substance abuse, the provision of health and mental health services, skills development, shelter and housing, and reintegration back into society. While homelessness is a global issue, in the South African context it is fair to say that the proliferation of shack settlements and the increase in street homelessness in South Africa’s cities could likely have been avoided, with better forward planning had Apartheid and its accompanying policies not been introduced.

Enormity of problem
When one considers the sheer enormity of the homelessness problem facing South Africa, which has steadily worsened over a period of many years and continues to escalate at an alarming rate, it can be difficult to imagine how a once off/annual event such as the CEO SleepOut, a philanthropic initiative that began in Australia 10 years ago with the aim of drawing attention to the global issue of homelessness and raising funds to help combat the scourge, and which is sweeping across the globe, could possibly change the status quo. Indeed, the first CEO SleepOut to be held on African soil – the recent Inaugural 702 Sun International CEO SleepOut™, which took place in Johannesburg on 18 June 2015, was, by most accounts, a resounding success. For one night, CEOs from various organisations, both private and state/parastatal, each pledged R100 000 to make their home on the street in order to raise funds for Girls and Boys Town South Africa. While this was merely a glimpse of the reality of South Africa’s most vulnerable children, it was a significant show of solidarity and a meaningful commitment to use business as a force for change in this country. The initiative did, however, attract criticism from certain corners, with the event’s positive outcomes being overshadowed, to some extent, by the media interest shown in the CEOs and their respective organisations.  

Another initiative that attracted the media’s attention was the IDare2Care event held in Durban on 15 May 2015. The event, which was hosted by I Care, in collaboration with eThekwini Municipality, saw people from all over Durban taking up the challenge to forgo the comfort of their own home and sleep in the streets surrounding the City Hall for one night in order to highlight the plight of the homeless in the City and raise funds for I Care, the beneficiary and partner. Participants from as young as 16 years of age raised sponsorships from generous donors who dared them to sleep under the stars for one night with the proceeds assisting I Care in its work across the City. In return, they were provided with the opportunity to glimpse life as a homeless person in Durban and to interact with the street children in order to impact their lives for the better. The iDare2Care event was a bold statement of solidarity by the people of Durban who have grown increasingly weary of watching from the sidelines as street children and homeless people wander about aimlessly and without hope.

Individual acts of courage
Ultimately, these two very different initiatives were collaborative events, involving local government and civil or faith-based organisations, with the purpose of raising the profile of the scourge of homelessness across the country. Interestingly, it is the individual acts of courage of the participants themselves that sent the strongest message: That taking care of the homeless is not the sole responsibility of Government; it remains very much the community’s concern. Since, in order for homelessness to be eradicated, not only will the individual needs of the homeless, for example in terms of employment opportunities and access to affordable housing, need to be addressed but also they will have to be embraced and welcomed back into the very society that has, for the most part, marginalised them.

While such initiatives are a success for a myriad of reasons they can still seem like a drop in the ocean of the overwhelming need that exists. But we should not despise the day of small beginnings nor what may seem like the futile attempts of others to make a significant contribution doing what they know how to do as best they can. Let us instead, do as the Word exhorts and spur one another on (all the more) to love and good deeds. For the need is indeed urgent and there is no better time to act than now.


Unpacking Homelessness Candice Rule-Groenewald, researcher, Human and Social Development (HSD) programme, HSRC; Furzana Timol, junior researcher, HSD, HSRC; Dr Ernest Khalema, senior research specialist, HSD, HSRC; and Dr Chris Desmond, research director, HSD, HSRC. See more at: http://www.hsrc.ac.za/en/review/hsrc-review-march-2015/unpacking-homelessness#sthash.FeoASsIC.dpuf

Street Homelessness in Johannesburg Inner-City: A Preliminary Survey Olusola Olufemi. See more at: http://eau.sagepub.com/content/10/2/223.full.pdf

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