SPF Principles: Labels: what’s in a name?

i. Terminology is important and labels can hurt people.

ii. The SPF uses the term “Street People” to describe a phenomenon not to describe individual people.

iii. The SPF encourages the use of the term “street-based people” to describe individuals who find themselves either living or earning a living on the streets of our urban centres.

iv. Many terms are used interchangeably by members of the public, government, civil society and street-based people themselves. While these terms can have problems, the SPF is not prescriptive about their use. What follows is a discussion of some of these terms and ideas worth considering in connection to their meaning:

Street People: many people who live or earn a living on the street do not identify as “street people” and resent the term while others own the term with pride. The diversity of individuals in terms of their resilience and experience of social problems makes a single term problematic.

Street-based people: this term refers to vulnerable individuals who are living or making a living on the streets. The use of “street-based” is an attempt to steer away from a diagnostic or pejorative label and towards a descriptor that recognises the person’s present situation whether or not that situation is perceived as good or bad. What is common to all the various people who live or make a living on the streets is a set of problems that compound their vulnerability and this set of problems arise specifically because they are street-based.

Homeless: this describes someone without a home. A home is a place where a person feels they belong. Belonging is a fundamental human need and having no sense of belonging is extremely alienating. Despite dangers and problems they face, many people who live on the streets consider the streets their home in much the same way as someone who lives in a shack would also regard their abode as their home. While people who live in houses, find this difficult to understand, it is important to acknowledge people’s desire to create for themselves a sense of home.

Houseless: this describes someone without a house. A house is a specific kind of structure used for living. It generally does not include informal types of housing. Someone who lives in a shack or on the streets may be described as houseless as a better way to acknowledge their situation without assuming that they do not belong.

Stroller: this is a term used on the street to describe someone who has a house or shack but regularly commutes to urban centres to make a living on the streets by begging, guarding cars and so on. The various opportunistic income generating activities of street-based people are collectively referred to as skarrel in the slang of the streets. For the most part this term does not include criminal activity. Most people who identify as strollers do not consider themselves “street people” though they have close associations with street-based communities. Strollers are not homeless or houseless.

Bergies: this is pejorative term for street-based people that has its origins in Apartheid South Africa. Urban centres were deemed white areas and non-whites were required to leave urban centres at night. Many of those who lived on the street found refuge at night on the mountain sides near urban centres leading to the term “bergies” from the Afrikaans word for “mountain” (berg). The term is infrequently used today.


Follow us

Follow us on Twitter to receive updates on SPF news.