Catherine Mueni, 25, is pregnant with her third baby. Mueni has been living on the streets for as long as she can remember.
Her two children are also products of the street although she would not like them to live there like herself and thousands of others.
When she was 15, she was raped, a painful experience that makes her cry every time she narrates the ordeal.
“It was 10 years ago. I was raped on the streets. Some people later came to help and even filed a case in court, but I do not know what happened. I am yet to get justice,” she said, shedding tears.
Nowhere to sleep
Just like the other street people, Mueni has nowhere to sleep and when night falls, she lies down under a tree in the historical Jeevanjee Gardens, and goes to sleep.
“I would like to get out of the streets, if someone can help us to get somewhere to live, I really will appreciate. I am currently pregnant and I do not know what will happen next, I just want somewhere to live with my children,” she said.
Mueni fends for her children and her mother who live in a shanty in Mathare slum.
And even though the city centre is not far from Mathare, she hardly goes there, preferring to send whatever little money she gets on the streets to them. She has not gone to Mathare in five months.
Getting food has been the most challenging task, not only for Mueni, but also for other street families.
Moses Tisike has been on the street for the past nine years.
“Life is so hard, getting food is a real challenge. You must work really hard to get some little money to eat. For example, from morning up to now, I have eaten only two “KDFs” (buns named after the Kenya Defence Forces) and some water. I would like the government to help us because we are suffering, we do not have anywhere to live, and we do not have jobs. I collect wood, cartons and paper and sell to vendors at Grogan,” he said.
When it rains, sleeping on verandas is impossible. Many times, the street families are rained on.
Harassed by police
Sometimes they are harassed by policemen.
“We are beaten sometimes, abused and accused of doing things we know nothing about. Sometimes we have to go into hiding,” he said.
“I was once falsely accused of doing something I did not. I was convicted of theft and taken to the Industrial Area Prison where I stayed for one year and eight months,” he said.
While Mueni wants somewhere to live, Tisike wants a job. Mueni and her parents moved from Makueni to Nairobi due to family conflicts about land.
Tisike moved from his home in Oloitoktok because he could not get along with his stepmother.
Wants a job
“I just want a job, it does not matter the kind of work I will be given because I have the strength. I would like to go back home, but before that, I need a job,” he said.
This is the story of thousands of others like them across the country.
Kenya has a total of 46,639 people living on the streets, out of which 72.4 per cent are male, according to the 2018 National Census of Street Families Report.
But experts estimate that there could be more street people.
The number of street children actually increased with the Covid-19 pandemic if the number of people begging on the streets of Nairobi is anything to go by.
Most of the street persons are aged 10 to 34 years and the highest number is in Nairobi, followed by Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Uasin Gishu counties.
On several occasions, the government has established some interventions. But these seem to have borne no fruit as street families are increasing by the day, now mostly driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund (SFRTF) was established in 2003 months after Mwai Kibaki took office as the third president of Kenya, but became operational only in 2019.
The fund’s vision is to create a country “free of street families” and the mission is “to coordinate and develop capacity, mobilise resources to facilitate and monitor rehabilitative, re-integrative and preventive programmes for street families.”
When it was formed, the government removed more than 6,000 street children from the streets, under then-minister for Local Government Karisa Maitha, and took them for rehabilitation in various centres across the country.
Child protection centres
Two child protection centres were also established, where street children would go for counselling, recreation, food and facilitation to access education and vocational training.
Despite the fund still being operational, Mueni and others say that no one has provided solutions for them despite the number of people who come to speak with them.
“I have spoken to many people but I have not seen any long-lasting help. I do not want to be on the street, I want to have a better tomorrow,” she said.
And now, the government is set to establish a national policy and framework to provide a systematic and sustainable rehabilitation of the street families.
At the end of 2020, Dr Linah Jebii Kilimo, a former chairperson of SFRTF, said the purpose of the policy will be to provide guidelines on the coordination of rescue, reintegration and re-socialisation of the street families.
The policy seeks to establish family-oriented programmes in the 47 counties, which will be implemented through village elders and the Nyumba Kumi initiative — a strategy of anchoring community policing at the household level.
The policy will guide the establishment of dropping centres across the 47 counties to be used as temporary rescue centres for street families.
It also aims at introducing stringent measures against parents who let their children go to the street or hire them out to be used by cartels to beg.
Drafting of the policy was expected to be completed by May 2020. But, policy alone may not be enough, experts have said.
According to Pastor Gibson Anduvate of the International Christian Centre in Nairobi, the problem of street families should be addressed holistically.
“Each family is unique and one approach cannot solve the issue. Some of them are addicts and others do not have homes or ran away from home or they were just kicked out.
“Giving them a house is not enough, they also need psycho-social support, income generating activities and education so that they can stay off the streets,” he said.
The government alone cannot solve the issue, and individuals as well as the church, should come on board.
Dr Khamati Shilabukha, an anthropologist and research fellow at the Institute of Anthropology, Gender and Africa Studies at the University of Nairobi termed the issue of street families as “multi-faceted.”
Address root causes
To succeed in addressing the increasing number of street families, the government should first address the root causes. These include poverty, rural-urban migration, broken societal and social networks, unaffordable urban housing, and corruption, breakdown of law and order, as well ‘cannibalism’ where well-off individuals take advantage of the poor.
“The government could make rural areas more attractive so as to reduce rural-urban migration, which is one of the causes of street families,” he said.
According to him, “We need to reclaim human dignity and stop glorifying poverty”.
He said the academia should also provide sound practical solutions through research, while parents need to have time for their children.
“We are bringing up entitled children who run to the streets when they are reprimanded,” he said.
He added that people have become too individualistic, another issue that is driving some to the streets because they are not able to share the things afflicting them.
Others have picked anti-social behaviour from watching Western content that does not depict the real picture on the ground, he said.