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

Video British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Multimedia Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid