NPO helping the vulnerable are feeling the strain of the coronavirus

The outbreak of the coronavirus in South Africa has put a strain on non-profit organisations (NPO) tasked with helping the homeless and vulnerable.

Leona Pienaar is the chief executive officer of Mould Empower Serve (MES), an organisation that provides food, shelter and protection to this community of people. It operates across South Africa in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Pienaar said the organisation had a big job ahead of it to look after for the health of people who were often overlooked.

"In most cases, homeless communities are often subject to many communicable or pre-existing illnesses already.

"They often include elderly people and very young children , and some are people living in conditions of utter desperation that make them vulnerable to a myriad of illnesses," Pienaar said.

Dire impact

With the threat of Covid-19, MES faces a tough decision on how to handle the outbreak – whether to quarantine those they serve or even shut down completely until the virus subsides.

"It is organisations like MES, which operate in the inner cities across the country and whose mission is to support the homeless and the destitute, who are taking the initiative to answer these critical questions," she said.

"There is a whole community of people who might not even be aware of what is happening around them – the homeless community.

"They make up over 100 000 people in Johannesburg alone and are found at every street corner, every park and homeless shelter," Pienaar added.

The coronavirus could have a dire impact on this community because they do not have the resources to fight it.

Measures in place

The organisation has stepped in, taking preventative measures against the infection. It includes making sanitising and hygiene products accessible, providing health meals, as well as accommodation and facilities for people to get cleaned up.

"All our shelters accommodate less than 100 people. Everyone will be screened every night upon entry and, if any symptoms are displayed, the cases will be reported to health authorities."

While after-school centres and holiday programmes will be closing from Wednesday, MES will still provide healthy meals at all their centres.

"Our aim is to boost the immune system of the most vulnerable," she said.

Assistance needed

Fighting Covid-19, however, is a community effort and Pienaar called on South Africans for their help.

"Please ensure you alert the relevant authorities should you find a homeless person you suspect of having the coronavirus."

Those who do want to lend a helping hand can get involved by sponsoring or donating necessities like fresh and non-perishable food, sanitisers, cleaning material or immune system boosters.

"As members of the community who live by the spirit of Ubuntu, we all have a role to play to ensure we protect those who are less privileged," Pienaar said.