Winter is just a few days away, and we have all seen homeless people in our areas and neighbourhoods. According to the Human Sciences Research Council, there are approximately 100 000 to 200 000 homeless people in South Africa. Mandlenkosi* used to be one of these thousands of homeless people seeking refuge under bridges and trees. He reflects on the challenges of being homeless while trying to make ends meet.
“I was homeless for four years after I left my family because of being into drugs and was starting out with theft and robbery,” he says. For Mandlenkosi and his peers, keeping warm in winter was an ordeal because they had to steal blankets from people’s yards. “We used to wear blankets and put plastic on top so that we could get warm. We steal the blankets from people who hanged them after they had washed them because there was no other way,” he says to The Daily Vox.
Homeless people in South Africa include roofless individuals, people who have temporary housing, and those who access overnight shelters.
“I used to rob people [of money and their possessions] in order to make sure that I got food. It got to a point where I became so used to that, I was no longer struggling to buy food,” he says.
Mandlenkosi says after being arrested for six months in 2014 for theft, he then decided to find ways of moving out of living on the streets and also change his life. “I started relying on my faith to give me the strength to find help and and get a job so I could no longer be homeless. I told myself that I no longer want to harm anyone, because of not having stuff, and I started looking for projects around Kempton Park that I could work on to start making a living.”
For those looking to help people living on the streets, Mandlenkosi says give with meaning. “People who are homeless also need to be shown love. You need to give from the bottom of your heart, because if you give someone clothes or food without meaning, then that gift will not mean anything really. Tell them that Jesus loves them too.”
How to help keep them warm
With the winter season blowing in, there are many ways in which you could help keep a homeless person warm. Duan Edwards, branch manager of the Kempton Park Mould Empower Serve (MES), an organisation that offer assistance and support to the homeless, says some of the ways could include supporting the winter drives in your area. The MES, for instance, is running a national Hope for Winter campaign drive where people can donate mainly clothes, shoes, blankets, and non-perishable food items. “Support your local shelter by sponsoring a warm bed and by providing blankets and other daily needs,” he says.
Taking initiative to learn more about shelters and volunteering is another way Edwards says you can contribute towards helping homeless people keep warm this winter. “Educate yourself, your family, community, school etc. on where the shelters or charity organisations are located in your community and volunteer if possible. Get involved in local street outreaches or soup kitchen drives.”
Homelessness is a worldwide issue and, according to Edwards, we need to rather invest in anti-homelessness campaigns. “The problems are much deeper than homelessness. It starts with the physiological state and social problems which people endure and are not able to cope with which then leads to homelessness. Our family bonds need to be strengthen and governments need to spend more resources on a person’s mental and physiological part to ensure their citizens are mentally strong in order to cope with daily problems.”
*Name has been changed