Homeless people are among the most vulnerable people in society, suffering from acute levels of poverty, social exclusion and violence. Homeless people are often seen as a cause of crime; however, they are in fact more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators. Much of the violence experienced by homeless people is committed by members of the public and such incidences generally go unreported. This study set out to determine the nature and extent of victimisation experienced by homeless people living in Pretoria (Gauteng) and the rural areas surrounding Thohoyandou (Limpopo).
The study was descriptive in nature with an exploratory element. Data was collected by means of structured questionnaire administered through face-to-face survey methods. Snowball sampling was used to interview 40 urban and 30 rural homeless people. Data was analysed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (v23), which allowed for descriptive and inferential analyses between the two settings.
The mean age of respondents was 34.9 years (standard deviation 8.1 years). The vast majority of the respondents were males (95.7%) and African (92.9%) who had been chronically homeless (71.4%). The main reasons for being homeless were due to unemployment (48.0%), being an illegal immigrant (17.7%) and family breakdown (11.4%). Almost half of respondents felt unsafe while living on the streets (45.7%) and feared becoming a victim of crime in the next year (57.1%). The greater proportion of respondents (52.9%) had been victimised since becoming homeless, reporting physical assault (35.1%), grievous bodily harm (10.8%), verbal abuse (5.4%) and theft (70.2%). Statistically significant differences (p < 0.05; r > -0.36) featured between urban and rural homeless people in terms of, among others, fear of assault, theft and harassment. The study further reports on victimisation of homeless people in terms of location, perpetrator characteristics, reporting and responses to victimisation.
Homeless people were victimised more than the general population and were mostly victims of physical assault and theft. Homeless people were more likely to retaliate physically than report their victimisation to the police because they did not trust the police. Considering the results of the study and the literature review, intervention to end homelessness and assist homeless people should focus on providing homeless people with necessary skills to find employment, mediate the relationship between homeless people and the police and strategies should be developed that reunites homeless people with their families.