Durban’s homeless face bleak winter

A makeshift shelter for a homeless person.

FOLLOWING this weekend’s wet weather and plummeting temperatures, those who are fortunate enough are gearing themselves for the coming winter season, but those who only have the streets to call home, are in for yet another wet and freezing season dealing with sodden blankets and soaked clothes.

With more than 4 000 homeless people currently living on the streets of Durban, and the other half in shelters, the city’s homeless population appears to be burgeoning out of control.

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Chris Desmond, the lead investigator of a project which conducted research investigating homelessness in the city which was recently tabled and adopted by the municipality’s full council as a programme of action, said more than half the people surveyed originate from KZN (most often Durban), which is contrary to the common belief that people living on the street are mainly foreigners or people from elsewhere in the country.

“We focused on formal shelters, relaxing the definition would have opened up a wide range of accommodation arrangements.”

“There are abandoned buildings that have been occupied with space being let out at a fee; there are rooms above places of business that are let out on a daily basis; and over-crowded flats where space is rented out.”

“Similarly, we only interviewed people we found sleeping on the street. Using a broader definition of homelessness could include people living in informal settlements. If we are to include a broad definition of homeless to include all people in insecure housing, estimates of the size of the population would be far higher,” he said.

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Ward 31 (Musgrave, Overport, Sydenham) councillor, Chris Pappas says homelessness, vagrants and street beggars are a problem in communities and need both the public and leaders to find a lasting solution.

“There is a general perception about giving money or food to street beggars that it does more harm than good because it invites more beggars to that particular spot and in turn gives the area a bad image.”

“However, we need to also take into consideration that they are a part of our community and we need to find ways on how we can help them,” Pappas said.

Charlene Usher, who runs the first council-approved shelter for the homeless in Durban, Haven of Hope Shelter, says because there are no set standards ascribed to shelters, many are not habitable.


Haven of Hope team, Riccardo Mscina, Leesa-Anne Abrahams, Charlene Usher, Fabian King and Kenny van Wyk.


Usher, who charges R40 a day has also come in for some criticism by people who accuse her of daylight robbery, saying her fee is too much for the homeless who have no income.

ALSO READ: Haven of Hope shelters Durban’s homeless

“There is a lot of jealousy from other shelters because of what we have here, we run a tight ship. Unlike other shelters there are rules here, once you get here you have to have a shower before you are assigned a bed.”

“Our current challenge is that we are not able to provide a meal for the homeless people every day, but we are hopeful that will happen one day and are grateful to two churches who run a feeding scheme at the shelter every Sunday and Monday and friends, family and Durban businesses who sponsor meals.” she said.

“Winter and rain are the worst enemies for the homeless, everything you have and own just gets soaked in the rain. For those who can afford to pay to sleep in the shelters its good for them, but what about those who cannot afford it. Life in the streets is very hard,” says one shelter resident, Tyrone Naidoo (not his real name).

In its efforts to curb homelessness, the city has announced plans to build drop-in centres and homeless shelters to help those living in the street and reduce begging, drug abuse and crime.

One of the drop-in-centres will be in Dalton, the other in Margaret Mncadi Avenue. The city says training would also be provided to those living in the shelters so that they could gain employment.



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Rudy Nkgadima

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