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Homeless man OK with school lockdown but worried about his 'habit'

The homeless are to be accommodated at public schools in Gauteng during the lockdown.
The homeless are to be accommodated at public schools in Gauteng during the lockdown.
Image: Pixabay/Leon Gerardo Cholula

Ben Sisoko is worried about being allowed to “smoke” if he joins other homeless people who will be accommodated at public schools during the lockdown in Gauteng.

SA goes into a 21-day lockdown at midnight on Thursday.

Sisoko, a homeless 32-year-old man in the inner city, said he was happy to move into a shelter, but was concerned that his drug-smoking habits will be curtailed. 

“Most of us who live here on the street, we smoke [drugs]. We don’t have problems with moving from the streets and going to the provided shelters. The only problem that we have is what will happen to our smoking habit. Are we going to get medication?” he asked.

Sisoko said he was willing to go to Parktown Boys’ High School, one of the closest schools. “We have no idea how this whole process will happen. We don’t know when we will go [to the schools],” he said.

He usually sleeps in a park in Parktown but agreed that the move by the government was necessary to try to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“I think the lockdown is necessary. If the government has a plan for the virus then I think it’s necessary for the shutdown to minimise the spread, because even us here, we don’t know if we have it or not and we are not being checked. So I think with the lockdown it’s going to be useful for us,” he said.

Sisoko, who washes car windscreens to make a living, said he was willing to get tested.

When TimesLIVE visited Parktown Boys' High School, identified as one of the public schools that will become a shelter for homeless people willing to relocate, there was no sign of homeless people or officials.

A security guard said there had been no preparations at the school. He knew nothing about the school being turned into a shelter.

Bheki Shabangu, who is staying at a shelter in the Johannesburg CBD, said all he wanted from the government was money to go home to KwaZulu-Natal before lockdown.

“Right now I only have R100 on me, All I want is to go home. Now that there is a lockdown, how will I live? What will we live on for these 21 days,” he asked.

Gauteng social development department spokesperson Thabiso Hlongwane said the department would start profiling the homeless before they were placed at various shelters.

“We will be working with social workers and law enforcement agencies, and other departments.”

Once profiling was done, the department would start placing the homeless with the help of social workers and non-profit organisations.

“Anybody who refuses to be taken to a shelter will be dealt with by the law enforcement agencies. People cannot be a law unto themselves,” said Hlongwane.

Social development acting MEC Panyaza Lesufi will oversee the process of placing the homeless.

 The department reiterated that there would be food provided at the shelters.

“It is important to note that priority will be given to children on the nutritional programme, those on ARVs and the other categories such as the home-based sick and weak. Those who depend on soup kitchens will be considered at a later stage,” said Hlongwane.

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