It must be a matter of concern that long before the five-week long lockdown is declared officially over, street people — including children — are re-emerging.
Everyone is being asked to justify their mission in the central business districts throughout the country, as part of measures to contain the coronavirus infectious disease (Covid-19) from spreading. The question then is: how are the homeless/street people finding their way back into city centres?
The current lockdown has been a golden opportunity to deal holistically with the issue of increasing numbers of homeless people in the country’s urban areas.
During the past week, after lockdown measures were relaxed, street people have slowly been re-occupying the central business district, certainly in the capital.
It would be a major failure on the part of local authorities if, at the end of the lockdown, the situation that obtained more than five weeks ago is allowed to re-establish itself.
The past month or so has been an opportunity for local authorities to decide the form and character the country’s central business districts ought to assume in the post-lockdown period.
When the economy restarts after lockdown, it should be able to reflect a different character, one that demonstrates that sound expert decisions guided it.
Local authorities must be able to show that they have entered a new phase informed by the past, influenced by the present and propelled into the future by deliberate expectations.
In the case of the capital, Harare, the lockdown meant the relocation of street people to places such as Jamaica Inn, Ruwa Rehabilitation Centre and the Mount Hampden Training Centre.
Jamaica Inn, 35km from Harare on the way to Marondera, was designated a housing facility for female homeless people, while Ruwa Rehabilitation Centre was a holding facility for male juveniles. Mount Hampden Training Centre on the outskirts of the capital on the way to Chinhoyi, was set aside to house male adults.
The relocations were an emergency response, but beyond that measures should have been instituted to empower these three groups or event to reconnect them with their relatives — circumstances permitting — so that the end of the lockdown heralds a new beginning, a new start to their lives.
There is a plethora of non-governmental organisations established on behalf of or seeking a better deal and fair chance for the disadvantaged in society. The lockdown should have been an opportunity to engage the street people and help find themselves again.
All local authorities had a strategy for relocating and accommodating the street people. Surely, the strategy did not end at accommodating them in order to release them back onto the streets at the end of lockdown, because that would be a damning statement on the paucity of foresight, strategy and planning on the part of experts within the local authorities?
Beyond granting the street people reprieve during the past month or so, planning experts in both local authorities and the Government should have found the space to appreciate the causal factors driving the street people into their homeless condition.
Is their condition purely the result of unemployment, failure of the provision of affordable housing, rural-urban migration, escapees from abusive environments, victims of abusive domestic relationships, or could they simply be people who elect to sleep on the streets because it is a cheaper option than paying for accommodation?
The Government seems to agree there is an acute shortage of low-cost houses when it acknowledges the national housing deficit stands at 1,3 million, according to the 2020 Zimbabwe Infrastructure Investment Programme.
At first glance, the presence of these groups would appear to suggest the erosion of or the negative impacts of urbanisation on the role and importance of the extended families.
An examination of the above-mentioned scenarios would be critical in determining how to respond to the condition of street people in a sustainable manner.
Zimbabwe’s experiences in the handling of families from Churu Farm, subsequently relocated to Porta Farm will be instructive in planning for those at Jamaica Inn, Mount Hampden and Ruwa Rehabilitation Centre.
In the case of women living on the streets, they are either spurned by families for being single parents without a regular source of income to sustain themselves and their children or upon being widowed, relatives of her spouse descend on the family’s property and she is left to fend for herself. There may also be cultural arguments contributing to their presence on the streets.
Basing on the numbers relocated to the three sites around Harare prior to lockdown, it would appear there are more males than females living on the streets.
Organisations such as Musasa Project operate “safe houses” for abused women. Could it be the females living on the streets are unaware of the role and assistance they could get from the organisation?
The same applies to Justice for Children, another non-governmental organisation. Centres looking after children on the streets could combine education and some skills training, thus empowering them to fend for themselves.
As for males living on the streets, they could benefit from drop-in centres — something similar to the YMCA centres.
These could then be connected to factories or peri-urban agricultural projects that require additional/seasonal workers every now and then.
There is need to address issues of street people in a holistic approach by identifying best practices that have been employed and have worked successfully in other jurisdictions.
There are innumerable precedents local authorities in Zimbabwe can benefit from.
There should be a difference when the urban areas return to normal after lockdown.