The Homeless in South Africa


Homelessness is not exclusive to some areas of the world. Instead, homelessness is a worldwide occurrence, affecting developing and developed countries. The homeless statistics report published in 2015 notes that limited statistics exist on homelessness in South Africa making it difficult to determine the number of homeless persons in the Country. However, in 2005, the United Nations estimated that 100 million persons were homeless worldwide. More recently, Habitat for Humanity revealed a 1,500% increase in homelessness over a 10-year period, reporting 1,6 billion persons lacking shelter worldwide. 

 South Africa is also challenged by a lack of homeless statistics since little is known about its prevalence. Calculating South Africa’s homeless population is insurmountable. Nonetheless, approximations suggest that South Africa has roughly 3 million homeless persons and 8 million persons living in shacks, otherwise referred to as informal settlements. More recent research reveals that South Africa has an estimated 200,000 homeless persons. These homeless individuals have either no shelter, stay in temporary housing, or live in shacks. Additionally, some South African homeless persons temporarily live on the streets while others have been homeless for many years. 

These high number of homeless South Africans indicate a need for psychosocial and mental and physical health support among health and social support workers who engage with the homeless. More so, a form of social inquiry is needed where the outcomes might (a) afford homeless persons to have their experience of homelessness heard, (b) help draw attention to the relevant psycho-social and health concerns, (c) elucidate stereotypes and assumptions, and (d) help explain the unique viewpoints and experiences of homelessness. There is a shortage of such research and literature that focuses on the South African context.

The homeless are not going anywhere in South Africa. If anything, the numbers will increase. We need policies and programmes in place that support them and prioritise their wellbeing - emotional, physical, and health. To do this, we must learn to understand the homeless and their unique needs and apply a participatory approach to our intervention. Inclusiveness for a population who for so long have remained excluded is a crucial ingredient to success.