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eThekwini municipality scrambles to provide shelter for homeless hours before the lockdown

26 March 2020 - 13:10 By lwandile bhengu
The eThekwini municipality is finalising accommodation for the homeless just hours before the national lockdown. File picture.
The eThekwini municipality is finalising accommodation for the homeless just hours before the national lockdown. File picture.
Image: Sunday Times/Alaister Russel

There are more than 1,000 homeless people roaming the streets of Durban as NGOs and municipal officials scramble to finalise accommodation for them less than 12 hours before the national lockdown.

This is according to Raymond Perrier, the director of the Denis Hurley Centre, a civic body that helps the poor.

“We think there are somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people who are on the streets of Durban facing lockdown. And we don't know,  and as far as I can tell even the police don't know, what they're supposed to do with those people if they find them after midnight tonight,” said Perrier.

After the announcement of a lockdown on Monday night, Perrier has been having meetings with the municipality and other organisations to finalise formal shelter for the homeless during the 21-day lockdown.

“ "The Durban homeless network, the Denis Hurley Centre and other NGOs have been working very closely with the deputy mayor and some senior municipal officials to respond to the president's challenge to create an emergency homeless shelter,” he said.

Perrier said that the city was fortunate to already have an established committee to deal with homelessness.

“What's a positive is we have already established an eThekwini task team on homelessness for the past year-and-a-half, which I chair. That means we already had a forum in which municipal officials and NGOs are engaging on subjects. And that's given us a huge advantage over other cities,” he said.

Once an implementation plan is finalised, the municipality will in conjunction with the department of health, screen people for the virus, other illnesses and identify those who may be addicted to drugs to properly classify them and offer the help they need.

“We've got great expertise in the room. These are people who are experts in infection control from the US. We've got people who are experts in drug rehabilitation from the Durban University of Technology. We've got the people who run the biggest volunteering organisations and the biggest homeless-support organisations. So that means it's not the municipality making it up as they go along, but often they actually are listening to our expertise,” he said.

eThekwini municipality spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa said they had earmarked venues for the homeless but this was in the process of being finalised.