Seminar looks at challenges in realising the right to adequate housing for person with special needs

The Dullah Omar Institute and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), on 8 June 2017 convened a seminar on SAHRC Research Policy Brief: Challenges in the Realisation of the Right to Adequate Housing for Person with Special Needs in South Africa. This was following a similar seminar hosted on 31 May 2017 by the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in Johannesburg. The presenters included Ms. Yuri Ramkissoon, a senior researcher at SAHRC and Ms. Liesel Du Plessis, senior project manager with Project Preparation Trust (PPT).

The aim of the seminar was to highlight the plight of people with special needs regarding their specific housing needs. Challenges in accessing state-subsidised housing for persons with special needs are mainly due to a lack of provision for capital funding for special needs housing in the national housing policy, and other relevant polices. This has left non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who are primarily responding to the need for special needs housing and who are severely hamstrung by a lack of financial resources are unable to access state assistance in the form of capital funding to build new infrastructure.

In trying to meet this policy gap, the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) developed a policy on Special Needs Housing Policy and Programme (SHNP, 2015). Despite the desperate need for a  policy that provides clear direction on the provision of housing to special needs persons, to date the SHNP 2015 has not yet been finalised and therefore has not been implemented.

The SAHRC conducted a research study (2016-2017) on the provision of capital funding to build / renovate and extend facilities housing persons with special needs, towards the realisation of their constitutional right to adequate housing. The SAHRC research brief sought to advocate for the speedy finalisation of this SHNP 2015, much needed policy and its subsequent implementation.

The SAHRC policy brief / research project sought to understand the reasons for the delay in the finalisation and implementation of the SHNP but clearly there is need to internalisation or the process. From housing needs perspective, the proposed policy framework (Special Needs Housing Policy and Programme (SHNP, 2015), will fill in the glaring gap. The proposed policy is comprehensive as it targets those that are most vulnerable in society and clearly recognises that NPOs are the main providers of the special needs housing.

Ms Ramkissoon highlighted the report of the Health Ombudsman following the Life Esidemeni tragedy where mentally ill patients died after being transferred into the care of non-governmental organisations across Gauteng. The report noted that the tragedy illustrates not just the need additional for special need housing facilities, but the dire need for institutional funding and capacity building to NPOs providing these very essential services.

The policy recognises and emphasises that good inter-governmental coordination will need to be streamlined. The role of the Treasury was emphasis as essential as an oversight department in the implementation process. As to the question of who would be the lead department in terms of the policy implementation, the proposed policy indicates that the national Department of Human Settlement DHS must assume primary responsibility for implementation of the SNHP. The policy further proposes that oversight and training to the implementing partners, namely the staff of non-governmental organisations and lead government department must be provided on a continuous basis. Yuri also emphasised on the development of an implementing plan with provinces mapping on SNH requirement.

Representing CSOs/ NGOs Ms du Plessis gave a background of the CSO/NGO involvement in the advocacy process that led to the SHNP 2015. We appreciate that the voices of the NPOs as implementers were involved throughout the policy development process. These stakeholders were well represented at the national stakeholder’s workshop in March 2015. She thanked the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, Department of Social Development, Department of Human Settlements, for their involvement in the policy development process.

She acknowledged the role of institutions such as the Dullah Omar Institute as an academic institution involved in research and advocacy for hosting the SNH Task Team, which comprises of stakeholder organisations involved in housing for person with special needs. In 2014 DOI developed a legal opinion on the concurrent mandate of provincial governments to adopt and implement special needs housing policies. In the South African context, special needs group housing is largely provided by non-profit organisations. These organisations are approved by the oversight Departments (usually the Department of Social Development or Department of Health) as having the necessary capacity and expertise to administer the institutional care required in special needs group housing. Despite playing an instrumental role in fulfilling the right of access to housing for particularly vulnerable persons, approved non-profit organisations generally struggle to access funds from the State for housing accommodation.

The Seminar provided a platform for academics, community based organizations, non-governmental organizations, policy makers and key stakeholders involved in the delivery of housing for persons with special needs, to share, discuss and consider the outcomes and recommendations of the SAHRC research study as well as map the way forward.

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