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Poverty & Homelessness

  1. What is poverty?
  2. Talking to children about poverty and homelessness.
  3. What you can do about street children.
  4. Resources.

There are different definitions of poverty:

Absolute poverty is when a family or a person does not have enough of an income to pay for basic living costs

Relative poverty is when individuals are poor compared to the average living standard around them.

(Adapted from FACTSHEET: What is poverty? | Africa Check

Poverty results in having no choices and opportunities. It is a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities Poverty makes people and communities vulnerable to other social problems, such as violence and crime.


One of the best qualities children have is their ability to become immediately inspired to help others less fortunate.  Helping your child identify and connect to a cause they care about is a good way for them to learn more about how they can make a difference in their community.

  • answer questions honestly and with empathy
  • initiate the conversation if your children don’t ask you
  • encourage your children to come up with a plan to help
  • don’t avoid questions and be mindful of your body language
  • let your children know about the actions you yourself take to help those who are less fortunate

To explain the complex subject to children between the ages of 2 and 6:

Your discussions with them need to be simple and to the point:

  • Start the conversation:
    If you encounter a homeless person or a beggar, your child may have questions, and this is a good opportunity to start talking about people who have less than them and who are struggling
  • Express empathy and sadness for the person:
    By emphasising how you feel sad that some people don’t have a place to live, you provide an opportunity for children to understand the importance of recognizing others’ hardships while modelling empathy
  • Provide a simple explanation to their question:
    You can say: “Some people don’t have enough money to pay for a house”
  • Talk about providing opportunities for your children to give through family activities like hosting a donation drive, or collecting donations instead of birthday or Christmas presents.
  • Young children may have feelings of sadness or worry after hearing that some children don’t have a place to live – tell them about organisations who help homeless people find places to live, and reassure them of their own safety and security.

To explain the complex subject to children between the ages of 7 and 12

School-aged children are becoming more interested in the world around them and have the capacity for a deeper understanding about homelessness and poverty. They are likely to have more questions and want to really get involved.

  • Try to gauge what your child understands by asking them to explain what ‘homeless’ and ‘poor’ mean to them – this provides an opportunity for an interactive discussion, rather than a lecture, and will keep them engaged.
  • Prepare messages you can convey to your child on the spot, such as appropriate responses to interacting with people who are homeless, and ways your family can be involved with helping those in need.
  • Be aware that your physical cues are as important as your verbal ones:
    A child will pick up on any negative feelings you convey each time you encounter a homeless or mentally-ill person on the street, and will subconsciously learn to emit those feelings without understanding why.
  • Encourage empathy by talking about your own feelings and what a homeless person might be feeling: With older children, you can begin talking about some bigger issues that can relate to homelessness and poverty such as mental illness and addictions.
  • Don’t avoid questions:
    Use their curiosity as an opportunity to create a conversation around homelessness and poverty. Watching the news or reading the newspaper together may spark conversations and questions, as may walking around in urban areas where you are likely to see homeless people. It is important to address any questions your child may have to emphasise that it is a significant topic that should be discussed.
  • Address your child’s concerns by becoming more proactive:
    One of the best qualities children have is their ability to become immediately inspired to help others less fortunate.  Helping your child identify and connect to a cause they care about is a good way for them to learn more about how they can make a difference in their community
  • Encourage your child to act on their concerns:
    Once your child has identified a cause they care about, there are numerous ways for them to act, from volunteering, to donating new or no longer-used toys, to saving a portion of their allowance to donate to their organisation of choice. Volunteering as a family is another excellent way to continue the conversation and develop a lifelong habit of giving back.

(From: How to Teach Children About Poverty | Compassion Australia:

14 Ways to Effectively Explain Homelessness and Poverty to Your Child | Wellspring Family Services

It is painful to see vulnerable children on the street, thin, hungry and without decent or warm clothing. Most of these children have had to endure unimaginable hardships; they do not choose to be there. Often, the first reaction is, “Poor child, let me give him or her some money,” but ultimately more harm is done by doing this than good. It is important to remember that these children have the potential to make it in life much like any other child. There are far better ways to help street children achieve a greater chance of a positive change. Some appropriate responses to interacting with people who are homeless, and ways your family can be involved with helping those in need:

The following are some guidelines:

  • Talk to the child. Start a conversation – genuine concern is something money cannot communicate
  • Suggest a shelter, or offer to help them find one (see list below). By accessing the available shelters, these children have a better chance of care, getting their health seen to, better nutrition and a chance to develop skills towards a more promising future.
  • Give the child food that they can eat on the spot, or clothing they can wear personally (remember food and clothing are sometimes sold for drugs).
  • Do not give them money. Often this money goes to their beggar master, or to their caregivers who spend the money on various substances, or to buy drugs (see substance abuse). Money prevents these children from accessing what is available for them. Giving money to begging children increases the rate of crime and increase the number of drug users.  It exposes children’s vulnerability to commercial sexual exploitation and child labour, and they miss the opportunity to be rehabilitated.
  • Rather make a donation to one of the deserving institutions, programmes and initiatives that are helping address the problem of children on the streets – soup kitchens, day programmes, shelters and education training opportunities need the money for proper services that help keep children off the street and out of harm’s way.
  • Search the internet and find out how you can help out.
  • Volunteer at any of the places on the list below.
  • The SAPS are obliged to take a child to a place of safety (they have a mandate to make sure that they are protected).

Remember, reintegrating children back to their communities so that they may take their rightful place in society – with support for the family, is the main goal of most organisations working with children living on the streets.

Even though there aren’t any clear-cut answers, recognizing that poverty is a global issue and that children all over the world deserve a future is the first step in the right direction.

“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” ~ Dr. Loretta Scott

(Adapted from Street children – to give or not to give? – Kids Haven

There are lots of places that offer help to those in need.

  • Schools for street children
    New Nation School
  • Skills Development Centres for adults
    Thembalethu – Africa Skills Training College South Africa
  • Feeding schemes
  • Food Parcels
    Department of Social Development
  • Drop in centres, shelters and places of safety  
    • Bethany Shelter
      Corner Millbourn Road and Viljoen Street, Bertrams, Johannesburg, Gauteng
      For abused women. No Fee.
    • Bienvenu Shelter for Women and Children
      36 Terrace Road, Bertrams, Johannesburg
    • Cathedral of Christ the King Soup Kitchen
      Saratoga Avenue Joubert Park, Johannesburg, Gauteng
    • Ekhaya Overnight Shelter
      Corner Quartz and Kotze Streets, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, Gauteng
      Men and women but no children.
    • Freda Hartley Shelter for Women
      97 Regent Street Yeoville, Johannesburg, Gauteng
      For women only.
      No Fee
    • Johannesburg Department of Social Development – 011 374 1600
  • Places of Refuge
    • Diagonal Street La Rochelle, Johannesburg, Gauteng
      For men and women
    • Roman Catholic Cathedral Soup Kitchen
      Corner Bosman and Skinner Streets, Pretoria, Gauteng
    • Immaculata Mercy Centre
      17 Sturdee Avenue Rosebank, Johannesburg
      Single men
    • Salvation Army Soup Kitchen
      Church Square, Pretoria, Gauteng
    • Strabane Mercy Centre
      98 Kerk Street, Johannesburg, Gauteng
      Only men and women over 30 years of age
    • The House
      60 Olivia Road Berea, Johannesburg, Gauteng
      For girls between 12 and 18 years only
    • Trinity Congregation Church Soup Kitchen
      Corner Muller and Bedford Streets Yeoville, Johannesburg, Gauteng
    • Usindiso Sanctuary
      80 Albert Street Marshalltown, Johannesburg, Gauteng
      For abused women – especially those with children
      Fee: R60 per month
    • The Rosebank Shelter, Christ Church Christian Care Centre, The Nkosi Neighbourhood Foundation, Headway and Baragwanath hospital.
  • East Rand Shelters
    • Kids Haven 011 421 4222
    • Kempton Park All Stars 011 975 6899
    • B.J Voster 011 907 3004/5
    • Don Matera 011 453 0884/7803/4/5
    • Mary Moodley Place of Safety  011 421 5675
    • Gugulethu Child and Youth Care Centre 011 917 9574
    • Department of Social Development 011 820 0447
  • Free  Early Childhood Development Centres
    • Afrika Tikkun – Developing young people from cradle to career
    • Wings of Life – Early Childhood Development Centres
      Alexander   087 1502079
      Diepsloot 087 1502249
      Orange Farm 087 150 2311
      Inner City Johannesburg – Uthando  087 150 2313
  • Shelters
    • Amcare
      Alberton, Johannesburg
      cell: 079 500 8011
      tel:  011 – 869 5856
      fax:  011 – 869 5639
    • Are Ageng
      cell: 072 700 6988
      emergency:  071 930 9734
      tel:  011 – 692 1940/1945
      fax:  011 – 755 1010
    • Bella Maria
      cell:  082 401 2296 /  083 366 7703
      tel:  016 – 428 1740
      fax:  016 – 428 1741
      crisis 24hrs:  016 – 428 1640
    • Beth Shan
      Pretoria west
      cell:  076 683 7821
      tel:  012 – 379 6671
    • Ikaya Lethemba
      Braamfontein, Johannesburg
      Department of Community Safety
      cell:  083 286 7948
      tel:  011 – 242 3000
      fax:  011 – 242 3017
    • Leratong Place of Love
      cell:  072 106 4983
      tel:  011 – 363 1368/9
      fax:  011 363 1368/9
    • Mali Martins
      Tel: 013 935 8032
      Fax: 013 935 8031
    • Polokego
      cell:  073 000 7369, 082 967 0383
      tel:  011 – 665 1725
      fax:  011 – 665 3002
    • Potters House
      Pretoria Central
      Cell:  082 978 902
      tel:  012 – 320 2123
      fax:  086 – 6799239
    • POWA
      cell:  081 270 5005 /  083 327 3695
      tel:  011 901  0292
      fax:  011 901 0292
    • POWA
      cell:  72 171 4952
      tel:   011 472 6631
      fax:  011 472 6631
    • Riet Family Guidance Centre
      Randfontein, Johannesburg
      cell:  083 400 1630
      tel:  011 – 693 3344
      fax:  011 – 693 3344
    • Theodora Ndaba Victim Support Centre
      cell: 082 6465917
      tel:  011 – 426 4776
      fax:  011 – 424 0396
    • Usindiso Ministries
      cell:  082 902 4611
      tel:  011 – 334 1143
      fax:  011 – 334 1206
    • Women Against Women Abuse
      Toekomsrus Randfontein
      cell:  083 948 0725
      tel: 011 693 4504
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