Shelters for homeless off to rocky start amid lockdown

WHERE TO FROM HERE?: Chwiza Smit, who says he is unaware of the coronavirus pandemic, is one of several homeless residents still out on Port Elizabeth's streets as the national lockdown comes into effect
WHERE TO FROM HERE?: Chwiza Smit, who says he is unaware of the coronavirus pandemic, is one of several homeless residents still out on Port Elizabeth's streets as the national lockdown comes into effect

Only one of the four halls identified to accommodate the city’s homeless over the 21-day coronavirus lockdown period was operational in Nelson Mandela Bay on Friday.

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality said  on Thursday that  Walmer Town Hall, Daku Hall, the NU2 Hall and Babs Madlakane Hall — as well as Hoza Hall if needed — had all been identified as venues where the homeless would be put up.

However, by midday on Friday, there were  big padlocks on the doors of  Babs Madlakane in Uitenhage, Daku Hall in Kwazakhele, the NU2 Hall in Motherwell and Hoza Hall in New Brighton.

Though admitting they were racing against time, municipal spokesperson Kupido Baron was confident the halls would open.

“We had people doing inspections yesterday [Thursday] by all the relevant officials and they will be open.

“We have started at Walmer Town Hall and we already have people moving in there.

“We are working with the department of social development and Sassa for the provision of food and other services,” Baron added.

At Walmer Town Hall on Friday,information had filtered down to the streets about a temporary shelter being set up there and by the afternoon a group of 10 homeless people had gathered there.

One homeless man who did not want to be named said the police had dropped him off there and he had been surprised to find an empty hall.

Some of them said they had been there since the morning and did not know where to go or look for their next meal.

DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga also arrived at the venue and said the shelters had been put in the wrong places, because the majority of homeless people in Port Elizabeth were living in the centre of town.

“I have liaised with the municipality and the mayor’s office, and they have promised to bring food and mattresses and we will wait and see,” Bhanga said.

Asked about the sanitation measures they would take, Baron said: “We will put measures in place such as social distancing and we will be monitoring cleanliness.

“Community halls are useful because they can accommodate a huge number of people.

“The only thing we are still waiting for is more ablutions.

“By end of business tomorrow [Saturday] we should have everyone accommodated.”

Despite facilities to be made available to them, several homeless people told Weekend Post they had not been informed about this.

Earlier, HeraldLIVE reported that Chwiza Smit — who has been homeless for five years — had no idea what the coronavirus was and was also unaware the  municipality was availing  places of refuge for those living on the streets.

“I didn’t know the government would pick up people from the streets, and I don’t know how or where we would be picked up, ” he said.

 Acting city manager Noxolo Nqwazi conceded  the process of moving the homeless to safe venues during the lockdown was not an easy one.

“It’s not only about identifying the shelters, but it’s also about insuring that there are people who are going to clean the shelters on a daily basis.

 “But also, when people are in shelters, we need to make sure that there are mattresses and blankets, and  also that  there is food for the people.

“I think it’s the rest of the value chain that has delayed getting people into the centres, but I can confirm that the first shelter is up and running.

“We are hoping that in terms of our timelines or our actions, at least by end of business tomorrow [Saturday] all the homeless in our streets will be in the shelters.”

Nqwazi said traffic officers, members of the safety and security services and the metro police had been tasked to alert the homeless of the lockdown regulations and the availability of shelters.                                                 

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