Please, Sir, have you got some change? How you can really help.

Are we really helping the homeless by giving them money?

You’re taking a leisurely stroll along Long Street, looking for a cute shirt to buy when suddenly a man in shabby, torn clothes stands in front of you and asks if you have some change. Now what? Do you ignore him and walk away? Somehow, you feel bad and a bit guilty because you are out shopping for clothing, and he doesn’t even have anything to eat. So you dig out some coins and give them to him. But not long after that, the next person pops up and begs you for some Rands. Soon you have doled out more money to beggars in the streets and at the traffic lights than you can actually afford to. And at some point, you start to feel quite irritated at being accosted every few metres.

No matter where you go in South Africa, indigent people on the streets – men, women and children – are an inherent part of the cityscape. Adults who migrated from the rural areas to the big city, in the hopes of finding better-paid work, soon realise that the cities are overflowing with unskilled workers, and end up begging in the streets to survive. Children run away from home to escape abuse or because there simply isn’t enough money to feed everyone. The reasons that lead people to fending for themselves on the street are as versatile as the people themselves. As privileged visitors or locals, it is only natural to feel guilty or to feel the urge to help those less fortunate than ourselves. But is giving them money really the best or only way to help?

The answer is clearly NO! And here is why: usually, homeless people make enough money begging to avoid starvation, but not enough to change their situation. Often, alcohol and drugs also play a part in their drama, as people try to escape the pain of their reality. Giving beggars money adds fuel to the fire, and keeps them on the street. However, turning a blind eye and doing nothing is no solution either! That’s why CapeTownMagazine.com investigated all the options available, to really help people in need and offer them a better chance.


Homelessness in South Africa

According to a recent estimate by the Human Sciences Resource Center, South Africa is home to approximately 200,000 street homeless people, a significant portion of the nation’s population of 53.5 million (Rule-Groenewald et al., 2015). Members of the street community come from a variety of backgrounds, and this group is quite diverse in many ways. To begin working toward a better understanding of this diverse group, we should consider: What is meant by the terms “street people” and “homeless people”? What are some factors affecting homelessness? What challenges do people without a home face? What government policies have had an impact on people who live on the street?

“Street people” and “homeless people” are often used synonymously, and “homelessness” is often simplified to mean those who do not have a house. However, homelessness is a complex term. Homeless people may have no shelter, access to a temporary roof, or an informal shack that is not safe or secure (Rule-Groenwald et al., 2015). Further, for those who live on the streets, some may be temporarily living on the streets while others may have lived on the streets for many years. Given these complexities, this population is referred to as ‘street people,’ which more appropriately reflects individuals who have no access to a roof or shelter, live and sleep on the streets for a number of reasons, and have done so for any period of time. This project primarily worked with street people. While most people utilizing SDR’s services are homeless, we acknowledge that individuals and families that have access to some form of housing comprise a portion of SDR’s guests.

Many causes of homelessness exist in South Africa, including structural, personal, and cultural factors. Of the structural causes of homelessness, housing shortage, unemployment, and rapid urbanization are some of the most pertinent. Housing is often unavailable, unaffordable, or inaccessible to the people who need it (Olufemi, 2000). According to the 2013 General Household Survey released by Statistics South Africa, 13.6% of the South African population lives in informal dwellings. Jobs are similarly difficult to find. The most recent estimate from Statistics South Africa indicates that the employment rate in the nation is 25% (Statssa.gov, 2015). Further, rapid urbanization intensifies these challenges in cities. Greater economic opportunity is present in cities; the 2010 General House Survey states that 53% of people were employed between the ages of 15 and 64  in South African metropolitan areas compared to 29% in the more rural, former Bantustan areas (Turok, 2012). As a result, many people move to cities in search of work and struggle to find it; the current unemployment rate in metropolitan areas is between 16 and 33% (Statssa.gov, 2015).

Not all of those impacted by South Africa’s structural challenges experience homelessness, thus personal circumstances also influence the state of homelessness. In their study of over 1,200 homeless individuals in South Africa, Cross and Seager determined that top reasons for heading to the streets included experiences with abuse and domestic violence, family problems, eviction, economic difficulties at home, and a search for independence or a better life (Cross & Seager, 2010).

Countless challenges affect the daily life of people who live on the street. According to a study by Moyo et al. (2015) of homeless people in Hillbrow, South Africa, common difficulties faced included violence, mistreatment by police, sexual abuse, and accessing proper healthcare. Additionally, Miriam Tembe (2015), a researcher participating in a homelessness research collaboration known as the Homeless Summit, observed that many street members have difficulty accessing food, sanitation, and safety. For example, Sharon, interviewed by Tembe (2015), discussed her situation saying, “I don’t have house, I don’t have fridge, and I don’t have money so I depend on people to give me food.” Another street person, John, explained that he manages the uncertainty of his homeless situation by sleeping outside a university building because “there are guards, we are safe with them” (cited in Tembe, 2015). These quotes reveal the difficulties homeless people face, and the struggles endured to obtain basic resources.

Government policies and policing, while intending to benefit the public, can pose significant difficulties for the homeless, who in some fashion live outside the boundaries of society. For example, City Improvement Districts (CIDs), which are privately funded areas that receive additional security among other benefits in an effort to promote economic growth with the goal of making the space more attractive to suitable investors and safe for tourists and residents, restrict the movement of homeless individuals. CIDs work to remove the homeless and panhandlers from the streets. In the early 2000s, homeless people were commonly moved by private security vehicles and taken to other areas. More recently, several NGOs have worked with the local government to keep street people out of CID zones in a less forceful manner that involves working with street people to find an alternative location to reside in (Miraftab, 2007). Enforcement of these policies has varied over time and from place to place, but policies such as these have made life even more difficult for street people. This is a particular issue for the homeless in the city of Cape Town, South Africa, and the area surrounding Service Dining Rooms is part of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID)