Care, Education, Community

“I have come that you may have life: life in all its fullness.” John 10:10

Upcoming events...

Recent news...

Homeless 101 - Introduction

Recent coverage of homeless people has again focused on them as victims: in Pretoria at the hands of an unknown murderer; in Cape Town in the face of a harsh law enforcement regime; in Durban neglected by an uncaring Municipality.  And it is true that being a victim of violence, of theft, of abuse or simply of indifference is part of the everyday experience of many homeless people.  

But that is only part of the story.  Those of us around the country who work with the homeless know a different kind of narrative.  

We encounter women and men who – despite all they have suffered – are not victims but agents.  They are people who are able to transform their lives and transform the lives of others.  To begin with they might need some help and in many cities there are faith-based organisations, NGOs, academics, corporates and occasionally Government officials who do help.  But we only provide the catalyst – these men and women do the hard work for themselves.    

We want to introduce you to some of these characters to help you look into the face of the homeless of South Africa.  There are maybe 10,000+ in each of our major cities, not forgetting those in smaller towns.  But each of them has a face, and a name, and a story.  

These are not the hooded shadowy figures that usually illustrate stories of homelessness.  These are not the blurred out faces we sometimes see in exposé videos.  They are not the ‘invisible men’ we drive past at robots whose gaze we try to avoid as they beg for our help.  We hope that you will look into these eyes of these people as they open their souls to you.  

Our inspiring young photographer Obakeng Molepe and meticulous copywriter Sithembiso Shoba have collected these words and images from the streets of Durban and the work of the Denis Hurley Centre.  But I know, from the meetings of the national network of Street Homeless Organisations, that similar stories are repeated across the country.  

We invite you to enter into their world and their words and be moved by what you see and read.  It is too easy to dismiss the homeless – they are litter to be cleansed from our streets, ‘paras’ to be dealt with by the authorities, beggars who should be satisfied with the coins we toss, druggies to be pitied or cursed.  

This photo essay does not ask for your pity; it asks for your attention and your understanding.  Homeless 101 is a project in which we are inviting people to stop and learn about this social issue.  ‘101’ describes the starting point for learning.  It also connects with Mandela 101 and reminds us of the larger social challenge we face in South Africa.  Are we willing to follow Madiba’s example and step beyond ourselves and our social bubbles to encounter each person as a brother or sister, no matter how different they initially seem?

We have many older, middle-class women who come and volunteer at our centre.  One of them confessed to me once that she had initially been scared of driving into town, intimidated by the homeless beggars.  Now, she said, she felt more confident.  "But what about Vusi?”, I said, asking about a man who worked alongside her in the kitchen.  "After all, he is homeless – are you intimidated by him?”

"Oh no,” she replied, looking at me with surprise.  "I don’t think of him as homeless; I think of him as Vusi.”

I hope that you also enjoy getting to know Vusi and these other fellow citizens – homeless they may be, but citizens none the less.   

Raymond Perrier 
Director, Denis Hurley Centre 
Chair, eThekwini Task Team on Homelessness