Whose job is it to take care of homeless people? Well, there seems to be no clear answer for this question, and different arms of government are shifting the responsibility to each other.
On Friday Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, went on a site visit to Akasia Community Centre to assess compliance with the COVID-19 regulations. This visit was also part of an attempt to address concerns by the Gauteng provincial government that it’s unclear who is mandated to take care of the homeless.
Gauteng MEC for Social Development, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi, said the provincial government is developing policy frameworks to deal with homelessness.
“At this point we don’t know whether it is a national function, a provincial function or a local function. There is no policy direction around that. But as Gauteng, we as cabinet have approved policy frameworks on homeless shelters. We are currently in the process of costing that policy framework. Cabinet has approved to a tune of R88-million if I am not mistaken, that we will be able to implement. At this point we don’t know where the function falls. At least there is something that we are doing as Gauteng to ensure that we cater for the homeless,” said Mokgethi.
But Bogopane-Zulu claims there has never been confusion and says government departments simply forgot their responsibilities.
“The issue of homelessness has always been a Social Development mandate, it has always been a Human Settlements and local government mandate. There has never been confusion about where homeless people belong. What COVID did was remind us of our responsibilities that we have ignored over the years. It became normal that they are in the streets and nobody wants to touch them,” she said.
Bogopane-Zulu said part of the government provided reconstruction and development (RDP) housing program was aimed at resolving homelessness.
“I think I need to give a bit of background. Some of us have been in government for too long. When the RDP program [started] in terms of the construction of housing, government took a decision that they are going to provide social housing. A percentage of social houses was intended to address the issue of homelessness because homelessness comes with development. When a country develops, amongst the unintended consequences of policy development is homelessness,” she added.
The Deputy Minister warned that post COVID-19 the department needs to prepare to “mop up” as unemployed is expected to skyrocket and more people might need shelter and other forms of government intervention.