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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment 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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs