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DUT’S Urban Futures Centre in a fight to keep the homeless off the streets during lockdown

DUT’S Urban Futures Centre in a fight to keep the homeless off the streets during lockdown

CRIMINOLOGIST and Head of Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology (UFC@DUT): Professor Monique Marks is part of the team working around the clock to contain the spread of coronavirus among the homeless in Durban. Marks is a member of the eThekwini Homeless Task Team which is led by the Deputy Mayor, Belinda Scott. The Task Team brings together a range of non-state organisations and government officials to respond to the issue of homelessness in eThekwini. Prof. Marks heads up the substance use directorate of the Task Team

While this Task Team was established many months prior to the Covid-19, it mobilized all of its skills, resources and knowledge to be able to respond to the pandemic. As soon as lockdown was announced, the Task Team begun the extensive work aimed at protecting homeless people in circumstances that are extraordinary, and were likely to impact very negatively on the homeless population. Durban has arguably been the city best organized in responding to homeless people during lockdown. Close to 2000 people are being housed in safe spaces, are being fed four meals a day, and are receiving ongoing medical attention.

According to Marks who is an expert on drug use disorders, one of the main challenges that had to be considered was that a large number of homeless people would be cut off from their supplies of drugs and would go into forced withdrawal. Without a proper mechanism for managing homeless people who use drugs would try to escape the safe spaces in search of drugs. She says, this was an issue that had to be dealt with in a manner that is compassionate and effective. This is where the Urban Futures Centre has been most centrally involved. Prof. Marks together with Michael Wilson from an NGO Advanced Access and Delivery have been responsible for managing a withdrawal management programme in the safe spaces during lockdown. A medical team was created. Durban psychiatrist, Dr Shaquir Salduker, has led the medical response. Three registered private sector nurses have been on this team and four social workers from the Anti-Drug Forum in Chatsworth have also been central to this response. NGO TB HIV Care have been critical in providing harm reduction services to people who use drugs and have worked alongside the medical team. The Denis Hurly Centre has been provided crucial ongoing primary health care services to the entire homeless population during lockdown. We Are Durban, led by Linda Morrison, have been responsible for the co-ordination of meal provision to homeless people during this period.

Prof. Marks explains: ‘Managing drug withdrawal is complex, and even more so in extraneous situations like Covid-19 Lockdown. The response has been to provide a medical assisted programme. The mediation provided is dependent on an assessment tool used to evaluate the severity of withdrawal symptoms. In addition to mediation, people on the programme have the opportunity to participate in psycho-social groups and in individual sessions with councilors and social workers. Together with the Department of Social Development, plans are underway to reintegrate those who wish to go home with their families’.

For Marks, the response to homeless people who use drugs in Durban follows evidence-based practice and is rights respecting. She is aware that there are homeless people that are still on the streets in Durban. These individuals opted not to stay in the safe spaces provided by the Municipality. They are a minority of the homeless population, with most homeless people in the care of the Municipality.

Prof. Marks has commended the Municipality and the police (both Metro Police and SAPS) for caring for the homeless during lockdown. She has stated that post lockdown, plans are underway for continual care for homeless people. According to Prof. Marks; ‘While this work has been time consuming and at times exhausting, it has been a great honour to be part of such a passionate, organized and strategic team. In so doing, the UFC hopes that it is contributing to alleviate the social and health impact of Covid-19.’

Pictured: ETHEKWINI Homeless Task Team members are working hard to contain the spread of coronavirus among the homeless.

PICTURE: Supplied by Prof Monique Marks

Simangele Zuma and Prof Monique Marks

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