In many ways, the African island of Mauritius is the very picture of a tropical paradise, with blue seas, palm trees and white sandy beaches. The island also happens to boast one of the top Human Development Index scores in the African continent, with its poverty rate resting at 11% as of 2023, according to the World Bank’s projections, a 4% decrease since 2020. However, homelessness in Mauritius can often mean a life of poverty and hardship – leaving many of those affected marginalized and forgotten.
The Causes of Homelessness
In 2022 the National Social Inclusion Foundation (NSIF) conducted a study in partnership with numerous NGOs working against homelessness in Mauritius, which revealed many factors that either lead or drive people to the streets on the island. Although an exact figure for homelessness is not known, the NSIF surveyed a sample of 102 individuals to determine the common causes of homelessness. The results were as follows:
- Family conflicts (37%)
- Divorce/Separation (28%)
- Drug addiction (25%)
- Unemployment (25%)
- Poverty (22%)
- Alcoholism (22%)
- Incarceration (12%)
A surprising 52% of respondents in this survey were employed and received a salary – many working as cleaners, street vendors, security guards or plumbers. Yet they still find themselves unable to afford the rent due to the high cost of living.
The study also concluded that many of those surveyed were not aware of the social assistance that was available to them, very few had actively looked for information or applied for assistance. However, many charities have been making great progress in changing this by reaching out and offering help to the Mauritian homeless, providing shelter, rehabilitation, financial support and counseling for those in need.
Founded in 1965 as part of the wider Caritas Internationalis Confederation, Caritas Ile Maurice is the Mauritian branch of a Christian grassroots charity, with more than 1,000 volunteers on the island. Despite an initial focus on providing emergency relief following Mauritian independence in 1968, Caritas has made significant progress in reaching out to the marginalized and tackling homelessness in Mauritius in recent years.
There are a reported 152 “pockets of poverty” in Mauritius, within which approximately 12,800 families and 3,000 squatters reside. To tackle this issue, Caritas has launched multiple initiatives since 2001 to provide relief and assistance for those in need, helping both the homeless, and those at risk of becoming homeless. It has partnered with the private sector and multiple U.N. organizations and state institutions to deliver relief in a multitude of ways.
Housing and Shelters
The Fonds Logement Caritas: Caritas Housing Fund has helped more than 900 Mauritians cover their housing loans so that families can become homeowners without the threat of losing their homes. Thanks to this initiative, many families and children have gained or maintained a roof over their heads and a stable and safe place to live, and those who may once have been at risk of losing their homes, gain a more secure living situation.
Caritas also runs two Night Shelters, Abri de Nuit de Port Louis/Plaine Wilhems, where the homeless can “regain their human dignity” and attempt to return to society, by providing overnight accommodation, bathrooms, proper meals and psycho-social assistance/ The facilities here can significantly improve a resident’s chances in successfully returning to society – while offering much-needed refuge from the isolation and hardship of living on the streets.
As a charity, Caritas has provided vital services and assistance for the homeless of Mauritius, reaching more than 50,000 beneficiaries, according to its website.
Mauritius seems to be on the right path for development. As of 2011, 87% of the Mauritian population were homeowners. In the same year, the United States figure rested at 70%.
A Promising Future
Thanks to the collaboration of both the state and NGOs such as Caritas, homelessness in Mauritius has seen significant progress and those affected are gaining real chances at a promising future as more and more people gain housing security, and those who remain gain access to both shelter and assistance.
The deciding factor on whether this vital work continues to help the homeless rests on the continued efforts of these charities and the state institutions prioritizing the homelessness issue. The future seems optimistic, but may only remain so. At the same time, the charities and government are consistently prioritizing helping those suffering or at risk and are placing increased focus on the root of the problem by addressing common causes that lead or drive people to the streets.
– Rose Williams