Nairobi, once an unrivalled green city in the sun, is now chocking with street families who have invaded various alleys, streets and pavements in the city.
The street families have taken over the capital city with Kimathi Street, Moi Avenue, Aga Khan Walk and Tom Mboya Avenue being among the worst affected stretches in the city centre.
Street families have become a bustling untaxed industry, raking in millions of shillings every year.
Children are tasked with begging for money on the streets day and night.
Data from City Hall show that Nairobi streets could have more than 6,000 street children annually and reports say they each make on average Sh500 a day, making it a multi-million shilling sector.
Some people living on the streets come up with all sorts of tricks, ranging from having sick children or people suffering from a terrible disease accompany them, or claiming they have lost their family, or have gotten lost in town and would like to get money to travel back home.
Along Kimathi Street and Kenyatta Avenue, a middle-aged man usually walks with a loaf of bread begging for cash to buy tea.
There are also others who sit at strategic corners, claiming they have scary diseases, and have a group of people around them sympathising with their situation to draw the attention of passers-by.
According to the Department of Special Programmes, Nairobi is one of the towns in the country with the highest number of street families running into thousands.
They have been blamed for increase in petty crime and muggings in the city and for being a nuisance because of their begging habits.
There are currently 250,000 to 300,000 people living on the streets countrywide, the department says, even though the government in 2003 established the Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund.
The then Minister for Local Government Karisa Maitha said the Fund would help reduce the number of street families. But not much has been achieved.
Many street children are drug addicts who sniff glue, smoke bhang and inject other hard drugs and have been blamed for petty crime and muggings.
Two weeks ago, the Nairobi County Government launched an operation to flush out street families from the Central Business District.
The operation, which saw more than 200 street children rescued from the streets, was led by the county government’s Environment Rapid Response Team and will be carried out on a continuous basis.
The rescued street children were taken to several rehabilitation centres, among them Kayole, Bahati, Shauri Moyo, Joseph Kangethe and Makadara.
Governor Mike Sonko said the rescued street children would receive treatment for drug use at the rehabilitation centres. They would then be vetted and taken to county schools to continue with their education.
“We will also train the older ones on life skills and enrol the young ones back to school. The under 18 have been taken to YMCA rehabilitation centre in Makadara,” he said.
But this is not the first time an attempt has been made to get the street families off the streets of the capital city.
The Narc administration in 2003, as part of promises it made before the 2002 General Elections, introduced a street children rehabilitation programme led by the National Youth Service to guide and equip street children with skills to make them self-reliant.
The rehabilitation centres were to reform and make the youth fit in society, provide them with guidance and counselling, train them in semi-skilled trades, and give them spiritual and physical nourishment, food, clothing and shelter.
But even with all the efforts, the children returned to the streets as most of them found no meaningful employment.
Even the past Nairobi County leadership, under former governor Dr Evans Kidero, in collaboration with the national government and the County Inspectorate, failed in its efforts to rid the city of street families after conducting daily crackdowns that nabbed more than 130 street children.
The children were taken to Joseph Kangethe Rehabilitation Centre but have since found their way back to the streets.
The number of street families has alarmingly increased, begging the question whether the current crackdowns and rehabilitation project will be a success.
Two weeks ago, the government, through the State Department of Special Programmes, said it was finalising a policy document for rehabilitation of street children to regulate homes catering to street families and to solve the issue of homeless people in Kenya.
Outgoing Special Programmes PS Josepheta Mukobe expressed confidence that the street family problem countrywide would be addressed when the policy is implemented.
“It has been noted that previous rehabilitative measures have largely remained inadequate due to lack of understanding, institutional weaknesses at various levels, poor infrastructure at family level, poor tracking of street families and lack of an institutional system that identifies, assesses and classifies street families,” Ms Mukobe said.
Ms Mukobe also said there have been claims that some people running homes to care for street families use them to get funding. This will no longer happen once regulation is put in place, she said.
Ms Lucy Yinda, the chairperson of the Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund, said there has been no coordination on how homes and facilities caring for street families should operate. She was optimistic that the new policy would help regulate the sector.
“We have a free-for-all situation right now. You can wake up one morning and say that you are starting an institution for street children then it becomes difficult, then you go to hospitals to rescue orphans. Then that becomes difficult and you do something else.
“There is no monitoring body and this is what we are trying to get,” Ms Yinda said.
The programme was allocated Sh110 million in the 2017-2018 financial year to fund institutions caring for street families. It targets to rehabilitate 6,000 people living on the streets countrywide.