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Forgotten and at risk, street families suffer most under the cloak of covid-19

By Judah Ben-Hur | April 21st 2020 at 11:24:57 GMT +0300

A homeless boy in the streets of Nairobi. [Courtesy Kizito Gamba]

As the time clocks 7pm and the streets of Nairobi become deserted, rain cleans the vast emptiness. Under the flashy lights of the city, water struggles to find its way through the clogged drainage systems while police match through the streets flushing out those violating the curfew. 

However, not everyone has the luxury of leaving the city to a warm home. It’s in the few dry and dark spots that a forgotten bunch of people hide from the harsh winds and the temperature which is slowly dropping to 18 degrees. It is here under a stairway at Uhuru Park, that a group of homeless people depend on the company of each other to see the night through.  

 “Covid-19? I am even surprised what it is, “says one of the young men lying on a makeshift bed made of boxes. 
With no blankets, food or any shelter to shield them from the harshness of the cold night, they ponder about the situation in which life has served them. For them, everything has changed and taken a deep nose-dive for the worst.

Street people have for a long time fully depended on begging for money, food or doing casual jobs to get money. With the onslaught of the virus, all their sources of survival have been deflated creating a threat they believe to be more severe than the coronavirus; hunger!

“Even if you have Sh50 to buy food, you end up buying chapatis, one for yourself and one for the others. You don’t know how many days they haven’t eaten and it’s only that one chapati they are getting,” laments 19-year-old Musa Mohammed who ran away from home in 2009 due to poverty and domestic violence.

“The virus has even contaminated money. If you work for someone, they end up saying they don’t have cash and want to pay through mobile money yet I don’t have a phone. Covid-19 has made things very difficult," says Julius Ngugi, one of Musa’s friends.

In an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19, directives such as the closure of hotels, staying at home, a 7pm to 5am curfew and shutting down of many non-essential businesses have greatly affected the street people. There sole lifeline that banked on the people coming to work in the city and hotels has been crushed to the ground leaving them hungry, dismayed and victims of the law.

“The law enforcement is always on our necks, they find you relaxing somewhere perhaps because of a long night working, and they take you in. In court, we don’t deny the charges because we don’t want to be remanded. We just accept even if it’s false,” cries Musa.

For the street people, all they have is each other and it’s the little food or money each one gets that barely sustains them each passing day. Although their unity is their greatest strength, it may also be their greatest enemy as efforts of social distancing prove to be difficult in the nook they call home. 

Streets kids seated together in Nairobi. [Courtesy Kizito Gamba]

When asked if they fear contracting the virus, “Social distance for us is tricky. For us we live to share, if I have it, the others have it too. If I don’t have it then the others won’t have it. We just put our faith in God,” says Oliver Ochieng’.

Even though the government rolled out a Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund to cushion the painful wounds inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, no help has trickled down to the streets people who are the neediest people and make up more than 20,000 of Kenya’s population according to the 2019 census.

As of April 16, Sh1 billion had been raised for the Emergency response fund as the government calls for more donations. The government has also disbursed an additional Sh10 billion to the elderly, the poor and those disabled under the cash transfer programme that will see those targeted receive 2,500 monthly stipends.  The programme works through the identification of those impoverished by local administrators who require phone numbers, a luxury those on the streets can’t afford.

In all these government programmes, those with no homes, no job, no families and some with no hope of tomorrow are clearly forgotten. As for 19-year-old Musa, this is his message to the authorities “The government should please look after the people on the streets. Just make sure they eat even if it’s just a meal a day. There are women with kids and don’t have milk in their breasts. They haven’t eaten and the kids haven’t also eaten. Humanity is free of tax. If you get a chance never fail to show it.”

As many Kenyans fearing for the days to come and wonder how long this pandemic will last, many in the streets think of the now; of where and when they will get their next meal.

Covid 19 Time Series


covid-19 street families social distancing kenya curfew coronavirus coronavirus kenya
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