BCM rustles up lockdown shelters for homeless

Buffalo City Metro says it is ready to provide shelter for the homeless during the 21-day lockdown.
Buffalo City Metro says it is ready to provide shelter for the homeless during the 21-day lockdown.
Image: SIno Majangaza

Buffalo City Metro has identified eight shelters to house the homeless for the duration of the 21-day lockdown.

Confirmation of the centres came after the DA issued a statement on Friday, claiming the metro had not yet made provisions for the homeless. Mayor Xola Pakati hit out at the DA, denying the claims made by party MP Chantel King.

Pakati said the shelters are in Glen Eagles, Berlin, Mdantsane, Dimbaza, King William’s Town, Scenery Park and Southernwood. The total number of people to be cared by these shelters was 330.

“Dignity packs” with sanitary towels, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, a facecloth, hand sanitiser, first-aid kits, gloves and mask would be provided.

“We are providing these shelters as a matter of urgency. The areas were identified by the department of social development. What we will do [as a municipality] is to provide guidance. We are happy that the homeless is being taken care of. These interventions require a multi-stakeholder approach because we need the health department to go to these shelters and make some tests to avoid having someone with the virus mixing with everyone,” said Pakati.

“Social distance [at these shelters] will have to be adhered to.” added Pakati.

King issued a statement on Friday claiming BCM “blatantly refused to conform to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s directive to urgently identify shelters for the homeless people”. 

On Sunday, King said: “I am really excited and glad that that at least the homeless are getting the help they can get because can you imagine if people that stay on the streets get sick, it will look like we are disregarding the very same people we are supposed to protect.”

She said with the help of local councillors, they managed to get blankets to some of the shelters.

“At the end of the day we are going to end up getting more shelter,”  she said, adding that she hoped the police and South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) had plans to ensure social distancing.

“I hope we all can work together. At the end of the day this is not about politicians but about South Africans,” said King.

DA ward 28 councillor Marion Mackley welcomed the establishment of the shelters, saying homeless people were hard hit by the lockdown.

“Once again municipal leadership had to be challenged by the DA before they would take this necessary step. They seem to operate on crisis management mode only.”

“As ward councillors we struggle with vagrants and homeless people who are battling to survive on the streets. They resort to crime or begging to eat, and they sleep in abandoned buildings or drains, and under bridges,” said Mackley. “A nation is judged by the way it treats its poor and homeless.”

Speaking to DispatchLIVE on the day of the lockdown, before the shelters were identified, Sinethemba Mdlalo, 35, who has been living on the streets for five years, said life was going to be different for him under the lockdown. He said he was now unable to ask people for “small change”.

Another homeless person, Richard Newman, 26, said he felt the government was ignoring them.

“Everyone has been talked about it but no one says anything about us. We feel ignored and not taken care of,” he said.

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