Editorial: Pathways out of Homelessness – Rehana Vally & Stephan de Beer

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People do not become homeless out of choice. There is sufficient historical evidence to demonstrate that the social and political vulnerability of street homeless people results from structural factors like poverty and unemployment. Homeless people are arguably robbed of all forms of social security which makes them voiceless and shadow people in the urban landscape.

The influx of people into urban areas cannot be ignored and local as well as national governments are increasingly required to address the reality of homelessness. They face the challenge of finding durable solutions for people that are prevented from participating in public life because of not complying with the basic rules of citizenship. Homelessness means not having an address signalling a fixed abode, and thus access to the city. A lack of dedicated government policies, strategies and budgets to address homelessness further deepens the challenge.

The World Disasters Report of 2012, on Forced Migration and Displacement, concluded that involuntary migration not only destroyed homes and livelihoods; it also resulted in the collapse of communities and social networks.

The influx of people into the City of Tshwane is expanding and changing its urban landscape beyond recognition. This would be in tandem with the IFRC Report that about half of the world’s internally displaced people are thought to live in urban areas.

It was the defencelessness of homeless people during the winter of 2014 and the possibility of them being evicted from 2 Struben Street – the city’s only overnight shelter – that activated various faith-based, civic and non-governmental organisations to call the City of Tshwane to task. Their protests led to the City of Tshwane reconsidering their intention to relocate the inhabitants of 2 Struben Street and acknowledge the economic and social vulnerability of people living in the margins of the city. An unintended but positive consequence of this unfortunate event led to the City acknowledging the limits of its policy on addressing homelessness in Tshwane.

A key challenge for the City of Tshwane was policy related. The 2 Struben Street debacle provided a common platform for deliberating on finding solutions that could be implemented and which homeless people as well as city residents could support and identify with.

A preliminary meeting to establish a shared thrust in addressing street homelessness was held in December 2014. This meeting launched a comprehensive research process culminating in the City of Tshwane’s first Homeless Summit, held in May 2015. The meeting also considered questions of definition and methodology.

From the onset it was resolved that participants in the research and policy-making process include people from local government, academia and civil society, and homeless or formerly homeless people in the City of Tshwane. Academics brought their research skills and approached homelessness from the vantage point of creating a shared body of knowledge. Initial research findings, and recommendations for a homelessness policy and strategy for the City of Tshwane, were shared with participants at the Homeless Summit, and round-table discussions, debates and inputs followed.

In this volume, De Beer and Vally provide a conceptual framework for knowledge generation and policy-making to street homelessness, a working definition for street homelessness. They argue for a dedicated approach and strategic investment at local government level to help find pathways out of homelessness. The article by I. Kriel considers ethical and practical considerations in researching homelessness. She specifically explores the ambiguities and challenges of scholarly engagement with issues such as homelessness.

Based on ethnographies, I. Kriel, Tembe and Mashava, explored the survival challenges, livelihood strategies and the right to the city of 60 homeless people from a diversity of backgrounds. In a similar vein, Moloko-Phiri et al. collected the narratives of homeless women in the City of Tshwane and sought to understand why homeless women are not as visible as men in urban areas.

Mangayi addressed a dependency narrative by examining different ways of survival amongst homeless people and argued for an economic development strategy built on the resources and skills of homeless people to help chart a way out of homelessness.

The contribution by J. Kriel provides an overview of how selected countries on different continents addressed homelessness within the realm of public policy. Mashau critically appraised the 2013 Homelessness Policy for the City of Tshwane, considered its effectiveness against the social justice principles announced in national and local government policy documents, and argued for the moral commitment of state and local institutions to eradicate street homelessness.

The relationship between the City of Tshwane, the Tshwane Homeless Forum and the Universities of Pretoria and UNISA, whilst celebrated, has at times been a rather bumpy ride. Renkin and De Beer pick up on this in their article on the Tshwane Homeless Summit as dramaturgy.

The reality remains that the paucity of knowledge on homelessness as lived experience must be addressed. This is the aim of the collaborative effort and this process, including the Homeless Summit was the first joint effort in the history of the City of Tshwane to find a composite solution for street homelessness. The ethnographic results on medical and spatial access as well as the psycho-social well-being of homeless people living on the streets could not be included in this collection. We recognise the importance of such research and will ensure that it is incorporated in the next phase.

The flow of migrants into the City of Tshwane is far from subsiding. This effort to address the resultant homelessness of urban migration is based on creating opportunities using the resilience of homeless people to find pathways out of homelessness. This collection of articles will hopefully provide a glimpse into an unfolding narrative.

This is an ongoing project.

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