Provide shelter for the homeless – SCEG

By Jade McClune

THE Swakopmund Community Engagement Group (SCEG), made up mostly of youth volunteers who support the local community through clean-up campaigns, collecting aid as well as distributing food and basic necessities to the needy in the DRC township and other deprived areas, have called on the authorities to urgently attend to the problem of the homeless.

“It has come to our attention that there are still homeless people in Swakopmund wandering around in search of food and shelter, despite the announcement by the President that the government will take care of them… we want to know what initiatives are put in place in that regard, and why the homeless are still wandering around the streets, putting their heath at risk,” they wrote in a submission to the governor of the region last week.

Their appeal to the governor’s office came though at the very time when Cleophas Mutjavikua was vacating his office to make way for the new gubernatorial appointment, Neville Andre, a former NANSO leader and assistant to the secretary to Cabinet, who will take over the reins from Mutjavikua, who has found himself batting away criticisms of slowness to act and delays on the part of the regional authorities in responding to the critical situation on the ground.

In a brief response to via WhatsApp, Mutjavikua said the SCEG should refer their questions to the newly appointed governor of Erongo or the regional council chairperson Juuso Kambueshe.

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“A new governor was appointed. He and Kambweshe (sic) will take it further,” he said curtly.

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Ahead of his departure, the outgoing governor at the start of the month announced that the regional authorities and local municipal managers had reached an agreement to reconnect the water supply of all households that had been disconnected over unpaid municipal debts, and to remove prepaid water charges and provide free water at the communal standpipes in the DRC.

The decision to end the policy of water cut-offs due to the risk to public health marks a significant U-turn on the previous policy of using water cut-offs as a means of debt recovery, a policy which has now demonstrated its potentially catastrophic outcome for public health.

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In recent years Swakopmund has seen a steady increase in the number of homeless people on the streets, particularly jobless youth, disabled persons and destitute elderly folk who can be seen on any given day begging for alms and appealing to the kindness of strangers to help them. Some have found refuge and shelter at the cordoned off premises of the old swimming pool, which was demolished many years ago to make way for an upmarket housing development, which never materialised.

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Erongo Regional Council chairman Kambueshe in his response this week told the youth activists in SCEG that he had “made enquiry with the office of the former governor and there is no trace of information forwarded to me.

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I can confirm that the former governor was kept abreast of my efforts to find permanent shelter for the homeless people but he never mentioned anything regarding your good organisation.”

He further said, “I am in touch with 10 homeless people that I have been looking for permanent residence for. The President’s announcement notwithstanding this project will be completed by month end.

I have shared with them educational material on Covid 19. General standard hygiene, provided them with soap and containers [with] minimal food and this was all before the announcement of the President.

“Having said that I would like to let you know that this is but just a miniscule [part] of what is needed to address the pandemic and the general disaster risk management recovery. We need all the help we can get,” Kambueshe noted.

Former governor Mutjavikua, who handed over the keys to his successor last week, found himself at the centre of controversy in recent weeks as a public spat between him and the new councillor of Walvis Bay Urban, Knowledge Ipinge, over the construction of a new ward for Covid-19 patients threatened to veer out of control, with accusations of incompetence, unnecessary delays, sabotage and impropriety in the use of donations flung back and forth between the two Swapo Party members.

It is understood that instead of a 150-bed Covid-19 ward at Walvis Bay, the regional authorities have since agreed to rather construct two facilities of 75 beds each in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.

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At Walvis Bay, the unusual situation resulting from the lockdown which required everyone to stay at home, clearly required measures that the homeless could not take, and some have since opted to occupy unused houses at the harbor town to shield themselves from possible infection.

In response to the plight of the destitute people who are staying temporarily in these abandoned or unused houses, but unable to go out and work during this time, Mayor Immanuel Wilfried and his deputy Penny Martin-Louw last week distributed basic foodstuffs to assist the needy. The municipality said the owners of the houses the mayor visited were aware of the situation of the occupants.