Covid-19 speeds up creation of 'safe open spaces' for Durban's homeless

09 April 2020 - 15:33 By Lwandile Bhengu
The eThekwini municipality wants to create open spaces for the city's homeless to live in once the 21-day lockdown comes to an ends.
The eThekwini municipality wants to create open spaces for the city's homeless to live in once the 21-day lockdown comes to an ends.
Image: GroundUp/Masixole Feni

The eThekwini municipality wants to create open spaces for the city's homeless to live in once the 21-day lockdown ends.

“We've already had plans in place to set up what we call 'safe open spaces' where the homeless can stay at night, in a secure place with ablutions and pallets and storage facilities. So, all the coronavirus pandemic has done for me is actually accelerate a programme and my vision of where we need to go,” said eThekwini deputy mayor Belinda Scott.

She was speaking in Umlazi where KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala, along with health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, handed out food parcels to some community members. The parcels included face masks, soaps and hand sanitiser.

“I was not able to buy food with what little pension money I have because all the shops have been extremely full. These parcels will go a long way,” said 64-year-old Princess Xaba, who received a parcel.

Tshwane officials have removed close to 10,000 homeless people in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. Homeless people have been placed in shelters throughout the city. They are expected to remain in these shelters until the lockdown ends.

When asked what she knew about Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, she said: “I am not completely clued up about the virus but I know I need to wash my hands and have soaps and sanitiser.”

One of the areas visited in Umlazi was Q-Section.

On Saturday, Simelane-Zulu embarked on a door-to-door screening drive after her department engaged with members of the community who were concerned that they might have contracted the virus after someone in the area tested positive for the virus.

“It was beginning to be a situation where there was a bit of panic from members of the community we're engaging with saying that they might have come into contact with the patient who tested positive,” said Simelane-Zulu.

“We visited 119 households and screened 508 people, and of all of those only 17 were tested. It's not automatic that just because you have been screened you are going to be tested,” she added.

Meanwhile, Scott also urged faith-based organisations and non-profit organisations to help feed people outside the city during the lockdown.

She said they had realised there was a growing trend of people who aren't necessarily homeless but come from dire circumstances coming into the city to be fed at these homeless sites.

“My appeal to faith-based organisations and NGOs is please feed people where they are. Setting up shelters takes enormous resources and we're not necessarily dealing with homeless people, we're dealing with very poor people,” she said.

Scott also said that the municipality was trying to gather up homeless people who had escaped from the different sites and were back on the streets.


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