News / Africa

South Africa's Mentally Ill Have Tough Time on the Streets

Buhlebezwe Mlambo is mentally ill and homeless. His friend Sello looks after him on the street, June 13, 2013 (G. Parker/VOA).
Buhlebezwe Mlambo is mentally ill and homeless. His friend Sello looks after him on the street, June 13, 2013 (G. Parker/VOA).
— While there has been substantial research into homelessness in South Africa, the issue of homeless persons with mental illness has received scant attention from researchers, services providers, policy makers and local authorities. Very little is known about this group of people living on the fringes of society. 

Snow-capped hills and sub-zero temperatures signal that winter has arrived in South Africa. For the homeless in Hillbrow, an inner city residential neighborhood in Johannesburg, survival in the harsh winter temperatures is tough.

Life on the street

Sibusiso Fuluni is homeless and said he has been living on the streets for many years. “Lots of people die on the streets…even the winter. When it is closed, there the shop, we just make the blanket to sleep there by the Shoprite. Our blanket we put under drain…I can show you our blanket….”

In the middle of a bustling street in Hillbrow, Fuluni lifts a heavy metal drain cover to reveal a grubby pile of blankets and clothes wrapped in a tight ball.
 
There is a vast amount of research about South Africa’s homeless but very little is known about homeless people suffering from mental illness.
 
Sello shows his blankets hidden in the drains. His friend Buhlebezwe sits in the background, June 13, 2013 (G. Parker/VOA).Sello shows his blankets hidden in the drains. His friend Buhlebezwe sits in the background, June 13, 2013 (G. Parker/VOA).
x
Sello shows his blankets hidden in the drains. His friend Buhlebezwe sits in the background, June 13, 2013 (G. Parker/VOA).
Sello shows his blankets hidden in the drains. His friend Buhlebezwe sits in the background, June 13, 2013 (G. Parker/VOA).

Homeless and mentally ill

New research by Unotida Moyo from the University of Johannesburg, in conjunction with the Center for Social Development in Africa sheds some light on the group of people living on Johannesburg’s streets.

Moyo was motivated to pursue research into homelessness and mental health when her mentally ill brother went missing and nearly ended up on the streets.

“So, I discovered there is a need for families and departments, different departments to really assist these people, so that they don’t land on the street without any help because you can see even their health is compromised," she explained. "They die on the streets, it is cold, they die on the streets from HIV related diseases, tuberculosis, it’s a lot.”

Vulnerabilities

Moyo said that mental illness can increase the risk of homelessness, while the harsh conditions on the streets are likely to produce and aggravate symptoms of mental health. The nature of mental illness, she said, makes it difficult for homeless people to negotiate street life and meet their needs for food, safety, shelter and treatment.

The homeless are particularly vulnerable to violence in Johannesburg. Police brutality is a common complaint on the streets of Hillbrow and became particularly problematic when South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010.

“Yeah, take my blanket, beat us with a stick, spray us with a spray gun, chase us away. They don’t want us on the street,” Fuluni said.

Vukile Ntandane, the station commander of Hillbrow Police Station disputes the accusations but said that the city’s police alone cannot help the homeless and that inter-agency collaboration is needed. “I am not denying that it is happening, it may be happening I don’t know," he stated. "But we must work together to avoid such things.”

Human rights often violated

Progressive social policies and legislation such as the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and the Mental Health Care Act of 2002, do have provisions for people with mental health issues.

However, Moyo found that the rights of many homeless people with mental illness are violated, because services for them often lag behind policy and legislation. During her interviews, homeless people complained of hostility from some health professionals and of having to wait longer than other patients at clinics and hospitals. But resources are stretched - a local nurse complained that the psychiatric ward was short-staffed and not able to cope with the demand.

Professor Eleanor Ross at the university oversaw the research and backs up this complaint. “Homelessness would also appear to be increasing without a concomitant increase in health and welfare personnel to cater for their needs,” she explained.

More research, better solutions needed

She argued that there is a need for further research to evaluate the effectiveness of services for the homeless and homeless mentally ill people in Hillbrow. Patients who are homeless and mentally ill and need regular treatment often do not return for follow-up treatment. Habitual drug users are reluctant to go into shelters because of the strict rules they have to adhere to, and when treatment for drug addiction is given, they often relapse.

“The results would appear to reflect the failure of housing, welfare, education and healthcare policies, and need to be viewed against the backdrop of poverty, unemployment and violence in South Africa,” she noted.

Despite the adverse living conditions, the research note revealed that the homeless and homeless mentally ill groups relate well to each other, but the latter tend to depend heavily on others for support. Sello is 23 years old and has been living on the streets for a decade. He looks after his friend who is mentally ill and homeless.

Sello said that they take care of each other and if they see that someone amongst them is mentally ill, they will help that person get food, ensure that they have a bath if there is an opportunity and look out for them on the street. For Sello, he said it is not difficult, they are used to helping each other where they can.

The research paper recommends that better strategies be drawn up and more research carried out to give a better understanding of this group on the fringes of society. Crucially, the factors driving people onto the streets, including those with mental illness, need to be addressed.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid