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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid