Homeless people out in the cold in Gauteng

The 10th of July 2023 was marked with joy and jubilation by many residents in Gauteng as the province experienced snow for the first time since 2012. For the homeless in Gauteng, it was an entirely different prospect altogether.
Homeless people out in the cold in Gauteng

Believe it or not, the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) has just one homeless shelter. That shelter, co-owned with the City of Johannesburg, is the Wembley Stadium homeless shelter based in Springfield, south of Johannesburg. It is managed by a non-profit organization (NPO) called Ikusasa Lethu. Provision of shelter is made on a non-permanent basis, with beneficiaries only allowed to stay a couple months once they have received social assistance.

Other than the Wembley Stadium shelter, the Gauteng Department of Social Development (GDSD) – the department responsible for caring for homeless people – outsources its constitutional responsibility to other NPOs which it funds.  


At the end of the most recent financial year, the provincial government disclosed that while it funded 26 NPOs, provision was made for only a total of 2144 homeless beneficiaries across its three metropolitan municipalities of Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Ekurhuleni.  

While we can be certain that this relatively small number does not represent the total homeless population in Gauteng, staggeringly the GDSD is unable to estimate what portion of the total homeless population of Gauteng these 2144 beneficiaries represent.  That is because the GDSD only uses the number of homeless beneficiaries registered with the NPOs it funds in its count.

Asked if the province would be investing in statistical research in order to accurately determine the number of homeless people in the province, as is done in provinces such as the Western Cape, the director of research and policy coordination at the GDSD, Dr Sello Mokoena said that there are "no plans” to do that.

This lack of statistical research investment shows a government not only unprepared in its provision for homeless people but also seemingly unconcerned for their predicament. How does the GDSD reasonably allocate funding if it has not the slightest idea how many people it should make provision for?


A 2020 study of the cost of homelessness in the City of Cape Town (CoCT) found that in excess of R744 million is spent on its estimated 14.357 homeless people per annum. The CoCT was spending R4315 on one homeless beneficiary per month in 2020, a contrast to what Gauteng - the economic hub of the country - spends on a single homeless beneficiary in 2023. Mokoena told the HSF that it only spends R2326.00 per person per month.

In the last financial year, the GDSD-funded NPOs were allocated a budget of R87 million to care for homeless beneficiaries. The budget is expected to remain the same even in this next financial year as, per Mokoena, the government has “budgetary constraints.”

Despite this relatively small budget, these NPOs are tasked with providing a variety of social services to the homeless beneficiaries including helping them with assistance with applications for identity documents, family reunification services, psychosocial assessments, referrals for healthcare services, and skills development, among other things. All these services, coupled with food, clothes, school (for homeless people with school-going children) and administration (salaries of employees working at the shelters) amount to enormous cost.

It therefore came as no surprise that some of these NPOs in the City of Tshwane previously sought public assistance as the budget allocated by GDSD is entirely inadequate to meet the demands of the homeless population.

Section 27 (c) of the constitution is unambiguous in obligating the state in providing “appropriate social assistance” to those who are “unable to support themselves” and one can question whether the GPG is fully complying with that constitutional directive if it does not even know the number of its homeless population.

Ezekiel Kekana is a Researcher at HSF.