Maverick Citizen


First city-wide Tshwane Homeless Count set for 19 October, activists appeal for volunteers

First city-wide Tshwane Homeless Count set for 19 October, activists appeal for volunteers
A Statistics South Africa team counts the transient population in Marabastad on 2 February 2022 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

How a city cares for its most vulnerable populations tells us something about the quality and integrity of that city. 

The global homeless population is soaring. In 2020, for the first time in history the United Nations adopted a resolution to end homelessness through affordable housing. Member states are expected to take measures to heed this call. 

But to end homelessness we first have to measure the scale of the problem. To this end in Tshwane the first Homeless Count will take place on 19 October 2022. Activists are appealing for volunteers to help.

If we fail to care well for people who are homeless, affirming their dignity, supporting them with pathways out of homelessness and ensuring their full right to the city, we might present as a prosperous and even world-class city, but we would have lost our soul. 

To end homelessness for as many people as possible, in sustainable ways, and to state that homelessness is a priority for a city, having accurate data is of utmost importance. Not having data tells a story of apathy, denial and ignorance. That is why in the City of Tshwane, a city-wide count will take place of people who are homeless, on the night of 19 October 2022. 

Why is this very important? 

  • Because people who are homeless count! 

They are often resilient people with great potential, refused access to the city and its resources. We have to make every person who is homeless count. Because they do! 

  • Because ending homelessness for as many people as possible requires accurate data. 

We need to know where people sleep, what caused their homelessness, and whether they have access to relevant services and support. 

  • Because knowing the facts about homelessness will enable suitable interventions and budgetary commitments.  

We suspect that the majority of services to the homeless population are concentrated in a couple of neighbourhoods in the centre of town. Yet, homelessness is now a reality in many suburbs and townships. Services and resources should be correctly distributed to where these might be most needed. 

  • Because homelessness should be made visible. 

Society often denies, or wishes away, the reality of homelessness and vulnerability. It is more convenient and less demanding on our time, resources and consciences. By counting the population that is living on the streets and mapping both where people are sleeping, and where services are offered, homelessness is made visible, and we can be kept accountable for how we respond, or not, to one of society’s greatest challenges.

  • Because it is the just thing to do! 

Excluding persons who are homeless or otherwise vulnerable from accurate enumeration, or suggesting that they are “too hard to count”, is a shameless dereliction of administrative, political and moral duty. It dehumanises people because they do not fit society’s mold. 

The Unit for Street Homelessness at the University of Pretoria, in conjunction with the Tshwane Homelessness Forum and its member organisations, and the City of Tshwane, are collaborating to demystify the facts and figures around homelessness. 

We hope the methodology we pioneer in the City of Tshwane, as part of ongoing research on street homelessness in South Africa, will also contribute to future methodologies used by Statistics South Africa. Current methodologies used by Statistics South Africa are predominantly geared towards households. This makes it difficult for them to enumerate persons who are street-based or outside of their definitions. 

The Tshwane Homeless Count is a loud declaration that every person who is homeless indeed counts. It is a commitment to gather data that will inform strategies, practices and budgets designed to support as many people as possible to find pathways out of homelessness. 

The hope is that the count will inform conversations about homelessness in Tshwane and nationally, and contribute to the ways in which policies and strategies are shaped, all with the view of supporting persons who are homeless, towards viable and sustainable long-term alternatives. 

The Unit for Street Homelessness, based in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, is committed to ongoing research, technical and capacity-building support of all those seeking to transform situations of homelessness in lasting ways. 

The count in Tshwane will not happen in a vacuum, but will be in constant conversation with New York-based Bloomberg Associates, an urban consultancy that supported a number of cities worldwide to implement homeless counts, in places as diverse as New York City, Mexico City, Paris and Milan. As far as is known, this is the first in-person, real-time and citywide count of people living on the streets, to be conducted in an African city. 

We need more than 300 volunteers to participate in the Count on the night of 19 October 2022. The count will start with a training session for all volunteers, conducted in the different regions of Tshwane, followed by a light dinner pack, and then getting onto the streets. The registration and training will start at 7pm and the count will take place between 9pm on the 19 October and 2am on the 20 October. DM/MC

Stephan de Beer is the Director of the Centre for Faith and Community at the University of Pretoria.

Apart from volunteers, the count also needs transport, financial support, and other in-kind contributions. To participate in the count as a volunteer, or to contribute through raising awareness, donating transport, or donating goods or funds towards the event, please contact one of the following: 

Sam Moimane 082-260-9611
Mandisa Dyantyi 082-284-1832
Lance Thomas 084-606-8292
Ronel Rademeyer 082-677-6166

To register as a volunteer, please use the following link: 


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