....as number of mentally challenged people on streets rise
The Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs, Ezra Chadzamira has said the continued spike in the number of people with mental illnesses living on the streets showed that there were officials who slept on their jobs.
Responding to questions during his maiden press conference as minister at his Benjamin Burombo offices recently, Chadzamira said the issue of homeless people suffering mental health problems was an indictment on authorities.
“It shows that somebody is not doing their own job which they are paid to do. People suffering from mental health problems must be housed in appropriate shelters where they are taken good care of. I will look into that issue and find out why such people cannot be taken to such places as Ngomahuru,” said Chadzamira.
He, however, did not specify which exactly among the many government departments was neglecting its duty of removing those people from the streets and ensuring they are rehabilitated.
With the annual World Mental Health Day being commemorated on October 10, there is growing awareness on the need to fight the inherent social stigma associated with mental health challenges, as well as the need to take greater interest in the welfare of people suffering from mental health illnesses.
TellZim News asked Social Welfare Department provincial head, Tawanda Zimhunga, if the minister - by saying somebody was not doing their job - was not referring to them.
Zimhunga said it was not their responsibility to remove people suffering from mental health problems from the streets.
“I don’t think he was referring to us because our responsibility does not extend to the removal of those people from the streets. Those on the streets must be apprehended by the police and send to Ngomahuru. We are equally worried by their homelessness and lack of care but we can only intervene by providing some supplies when such people are properly housed.
“I heard some of them are escaping from Ngomahuru due to severe lack of food there. I will find out if something is being done to make sure that they are kept safe there and are prevented from escaping,” said Zimhunga.
Provincial Medical Director (PMD) Dr Amadeus Shamu said it was not their statutory obligation to remove people with mental health problems from the streets, claiming their role was to provide treatment wherever it is possible to do so.
“It is not our responsibility to remove them from the streets. In terms of the Mental Health Act, they are treated not in our ordinary hospitals but in special institutions of their own. It is the duty of the police in terms of the law to round up those people and deliver them to the appropriate institutions.
“We once had an all stakeholders meeting where it was agreed that if City of Masvingo could provide the food supplies as per their pledge, we would all see to it that those people are taken to Ngomahuru. Nothing has been done ever since and we are still waiting for the council to give us an update. There are reports that Ngomahuru is facing food shortages and cannot, therefore, accept more inmates,” said Shamu.
City of Masvingo Environmental Health Services director, Zvapano Munganasa backtracked on the city’s pledge to help with food items, saying they did not have resources to even provide enough water to rate-paying residents.
He said under such circumstances, he did not see how it could be possible to fund the removal of mentally challenged people from the streets in any way.
“Normally it’s the police, PMD and the courts that must take them from the streets to safe places. We are, however, also worried about the continued presence of those people on the streets and we recently had discussions about it.
“We are struggling as a city, but we would be glad to help in whatever small way possible. I advise that the provincial medical directorate writes a formal letter to the city requesting assistance. This is the season of the Mayor’s Christmas Cheer Fund and we would see how Ngomahuru could best be assisted to take care of its inmates and accept more,” said Munganasa.
Chapter 15:12, Section 13 of the Mental Health Act empowers police officers to apprehend ‘mentally disordered’ or ‘intellectually handicapped’ people and hand them over to a prison or mental institution if - among many other factors - they are deemed to be a danger unto themselves and unto others, and if the surroundings are deemed to be unsafe for them.
The police may apply for a reception order if a person suffering from mental illness is a danger unto self or unto others, or is ‘wandering at large and unable to take care of himself’.
The law also empowers the police to apprehend the mentally challenged and remove them from
the streets on condition that they are not under safe and proper care, treatment or control; they
are neglected or cruelly treated by any person having the care or charge of them; they are of
suicidal tendency or in any way dangerous to themselves or to others and they act in a manner
offensive to public decency.
Homeless people suffering mental illness are generally considered to be a danger to themselves and to others, while the environment itself could in turn pose a danger to them.
In Masvingo, as in other urban areas, these people sleep on the pavements, living off whatever they can salvage from the filthy overflowing rubbish bins.
Some of them often disrobe in public, actions that are not only extremely offensive to public decency but also expose them to ridicule and abuse by other people.
The police, however, seem to be largely ignoring the problem, much to the disappointment of business owners on whose pavements homeless mentally challenged people sleep every night and, in the morning, leave behind all sorts of unpleasant stuff for somebody else to remove.
In response to questions from TellZim News, provincial police spokesperson Inspector Kudakwashe Dhewa said the police were doing their job to remove people will mental illness from the streets, but many of the people always find their way back to the streets.
“We do take them to appropriate places at regular intervals but some of them keep on coming back. We appeal to families with people suffering from such illness to help us by making sure they consistently take their medicine. We suspect some inmates who get released from mental health institutions are not being encouraged to take their medicines regularly and that is why you see the recurrence of this problem.
“All of those people who are living on the streets have at some time been removed and taken to appropriate places but they are back. We plead with their families to make sure these people are taken good care of,” said Dhewa.
He denied claims that the police only pay attention when a homeless person suffering from mental ill health attacks other people and property, or indulges in extreme public indecency behavior.
At the government-run Ngomahuru mental health rehabilitation centre, conditions are dire and inmates are starving.
A source said the situation was so bad that no inmate wants to remain there, with many having escaped since the beginning of the year.
“There is no food and there are no clothes. The inmates are hungry and they are ragged. Recently a male inmate was rushed to Masvingo Provincial Hospital for emergency surgery after he ate a plateful of dry soil. He spoke in no uncertain terms that he took the soil because he was hungry.
“Some inmates housed there show some good potential of recovery and successful rehabilitation but the difficult conditions are a big letdown for them; they are making very little, if any progress. If we had more favourable conditions, many inmates would be leaving Ngomahuru fully rehabilitated and as better people every month,” said the source.