Bread and jamming: a different approach to homeless people in Observatory

Friday night community sessions offer food and live music

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Photo of two people dancing
Dancing at a jamming session in Observatory. Photo: Simon Watson

For the past three months, neighbourhood families, students and interns have been gathering with homeless people in Observatory.

Established through a partnership between two local organisations, Soup Kitchen Observatory and Breaking Bread, the “soup sessions” offer food and socialising every Friday in an effort to include local homeless people in the community.

“Not everyone knows or understands the problems behind homelessness,” said Tania Sincic, a director of African Sunrise, which brings volunteers to the sessions. “We don’t want people to be scared of each other anymore, and we don’t want ‘Us’ and ‘Them’.’”

GroundUp recently published an opinion piece by Koketso Moeti on how homeless people are denied access to public spaces. Katharine McKenzie of the Observatory Improvement District responded. In January, Observatory resident Eduard Grebe was arrested for videoing police allegedly assaulting a homeless man. There are divided attitudes among people with homes in Observatory about how to respond to homeless people. The soup kitchen’s approach is an effort to give homeless people a stake in Observatory.

At the Observatory Village Green on Station Road, volunteers serve homeless people soup, bread, fruit and sometimes toasted marshmallows. Everyone gathers, sitting together, dancing to live music and enjoying each other’s company.

“A lot of interns and students come through Cape Town, and we wanted to give back [to the community],” said Indy Gharbharan, one of three young women who started Soup Kitchen Observatory and the Friday soup sessions.

Over the weeks, the soup sessions have grown to attract about 50 people. Gharbharan said in the nine sessions so far they’ve tried to support the community, inviting local musicians and buying ingredients from local producers.

Sincic said the sessions have helped the homeless community as well. One man got a job speaking about life on the streets, and another woman who often sings at the sessions is thinking about turning that into a profession.

Local residents, including homeless people, have begun returning every week to dance, chat and connect with each other.

“The people used to take the food and eat elsewhere,” Gharbharan said. “Now they are doing things together. There’s much more of a community feeling.”

Hassiem Fenton, has been homeless for two years and has lived in Observatory for the last year. He takes the train to other soup kitchens during the week, in Salt River, Claremont and Mowbray. He said he enjoyed meeting new people at the Observatory soup sessions.

“The community is more happy,” he said. “Everyone’s got a smile on their faces.”

Gharbharan said that in addition to enjoying time together, the people who come to the soup sessions can share their stories with each other. She said the soup sessions had changed the way people interacted outside the weekly event and was helping build a stronger community.

“We got to know the personal stories of the homeless people and speak openly with them,” she said. “Now we’re always friendly and greet each other on the street.”

TOPICS:  Homeless Housing

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