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660 homeless people in eThekwini have stopped using drugs, say municipality

At the beginning of the had lockdown in March, the city was forced to find shelter for more than 2,000 people living on the streets.

Photo by malcolm garret from Pexels

DURBAN/CAPE TOWN - As the world commemorates World Homeless Day, officials in eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal said 660 homeless people in the municipality have stopped using drugs because of the lockdown.

At the beginning of the had lockdown in March, the city was forced to find shelter for more than 2,000 people living on the streets.

eThekwini Deputy Mayor Belinda Scott said the success in rehabilitating the hundreds of drug users is a direct result of a partnership between the city and civil society.

The eThekwini Municipality has on Saturday observed World Homeless Day with a celebratory event after several people who had been living on the streets credited the city and NGOs for their recovery from drug use.

Scott said: “I have to thank the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development as well as all of our medical NGOs. These were the people that helped us through to actually screening the people.”

Scott said, however, their efforts were not without challenges: “Our biggest problem was that people were going into shock, shock from having drugs in their system, but we got together and knew that we had to do something really fast.”

She said they also received financial support from big business, which enabled them to buy substitute drugs and hire nurses.

Scott added that they were looking into a more sustainable program, which includes establishing safe spaces for the homeless.

DO NOT REGRET SPENDING A PENNY

The eThekwini Municipality said it spent R66 million on homeless people during the first three months of the lockdown.

The city was recently criticised after allegations that some of its budget went to security and accommodation service providers who had apparently inflated their prices.

Scott insists it’s been money well spent.

She said they do not regret spending money to protect the homeless during the lockdown.

“And for all of those detractors about how expensive the first three months of COVID were, you just have no idea what had to happen, how many government personnel we had to assign, how much medication, mobiles, food (was needed).”

Scott has admitted that some service providers may have inflated their prices but said the municipality was looking into this.

“But what we’ve done, through the mayor and through our exco, is that all COVID expenditure will be subjected to an internal audit.”

She said long-term programmes were also being explored to assist the homeless.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape Department of Social Development is urging the public to lend a helping hand.

The department which funds 26 shelters amounting to nearly 1,500-bed spaces said its aim was to empower the vulnerable with skills training and to help reintegrate them back into society.

MEC Sharna Fernandez said those who find themselves homeless have had bad things happen in their lives or have made bad choices.

Spokesperson Joshua Chigome said: “The homeless are human beings, like every other person that lives on the planet. The vast majority of people who find themselves on the streets do not do so out of choice. There are many reasons as to why one might find themselves very homeless.”

Seven hundred of these individuals have been reunited with their families during the 2019/20 financial year.

But more help is needed: “We would like to urge the public to give responsibly with regards to donations, money, food, clothes, toys, beds and many other things to registered NGOs who work specifically with homeless people in our towns and cities.”

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