City’s homeless brace for winter

| Barbara Maregele
Homeless man, Ashraf Khan sleeps in front of a building in St Johns street in the city centre during the rainy winter months. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

It’s just before 7pm and the dining hall of the Haven Night Shelter in Green Point has filled with people—most waiting to get their first meal for the day.

The Haven Night Shelter, one of the largest organisations providing assistance for the homeless in the province, fear they will not have enough room to cater for more people this winter.

“We are expecting a shortage of beds during winter. In the past, NGOs would just make space and place mattresses on the floor. This is becoming very difficult as we have to remain fire safety compliant. Our back-up plan would then be to send the people to government institutions like hospitals and police stations just to keep warm and dry for the night,” said shelter CEO, Hassan Khan.

The City, several days ago, announced that a total of R280,000 will be allocated to assist non-profit organisations(NGO’s) to cater for the influx of homeless people seeking shelter during winter.

According to the City, an estimate of 7,000 people, including children, live on the streets in the Cape Metropole.

While this number increases in summer, it’s during the winter months where a large majority of the homeless turn to organisations for shelter from the wet and windy Cape Town conditions.

Khan said they currently cater for 1,027 people in 15 different centres in areas across the Western Cape, including an old age home and halfway house.

A new assessment centre situated in Mossel Bay is expected to open its doors in July, he said.

When GroundUp visited the shelter in Napier Street last week, people were seated in the small dining hall area and served stew and rice for supper.

During a brief tour of the centre, the separate female and male dormitories appeared well- kept and clean. Kangaroo beds were placed in the middle of the rooms to accommodate more people.

Several security cameras were seen at the entrance security gate, in the kitchen, dining hall, and recreation area.

Khan said their aim was to get people off the streets and help re-integrate them into society.

“Our mission is to get people home, wherever there is a sense of well-being. Some people are walk-ins and others are referred to us from the police, the City’s assessment centres or other organisations. If they are brought to us, we give them an opportunity to walk out because it’s a voluntary process,” he said.

Khan said before someone is allowed into the shelter, they undergo an assessment by a staff member. This is to determine what their personal circumstances are or if they need medication.

“People stay for free for the first five days. After that, they are considered a client and are required to give a R10 contribution and find a job. This stops people from begging which weakens self-worth. For those who work and have an income of R1,400, we require a R700 monthly fee. Our job is to help re-integrate people, not to provide cheap rentals,” he said.

He said while the shelter only accepts people who are 18 years and older, they have made provision to accommodate at least four families at the shelter in Retreat.

“On average people stay at the shelters for 10 to 11 weeks. There are, however, some that stay for two days and others stay for eight months,” he said.

Khan said the provincial government provided a third of their funding.

“They pay R560 a month per bed and help us with the salaries for social workers. The City also plays a vital role with their assessment centres and we get free water and reduced fees for other utilities like rates and waste removal,” he said.

Khan said over the years they have encountered many complaints for various reasons.

“There were many instances of miscommunication where cases have even gone to the Human Rights Commission. We present our case because you can’t please everyone. People will always complain,” he said.

The City’s mayco member for Social Development and Early Childhood Development, Suzette Little, told GroundUp that the City’s R280,000 will be given to organisations in the form of mattresses, food, clothes and toiletries.

“Shelters and organisations working with street people are welcome to apply. In order to support the shelters, we don’t give the things directly to people on the street. In addition to our winter plan, throughout the year we have allocated R4,2 million for our 70 fieldworkers, treatment and assessment centres, workshops,and the ‘give responsibly’ campaign,” she said.

Little said as much as the City wanted to help everyone living on streets, it was still the individual’s choice to accept the assistance.

“It’s going to be a cold, miserable and wet winter. We can only hope people take our field worker’s assistance, even if it’s just for the winter period. We are one of a very few cities with a street people’s policy which focuses on restoring dignity and re-integration. But, these people still have the right to refuse our help,” she said.

Little said the City currently runs eight assessment centres.

“People come in voluntarily. We have found people coming into the centres for different reasons. A large percentage of these people have drug problems. At the centres, we will help them get IDs so they can look for work. We help people reconnect with family members, training programmes and medical assistance. The City does, however, have a shortage of organisations dealing with the homeless,” she said.

Little said they hoped to have two additional assessment centres by next year.

“The main challenge for us is when people don’t want to be helped, or couples and families that don’t want to go into shelters because they don’t want to sleep separately. As far as children are concerned, the province has agreements with various organisations, but it’s not as easy as just removing a child off the streets,” she said.

Little urged members of the public to support the ‘Give Responsibly’ campaign and not to give money to people begging on the street, but instead to call the toll-free number at 0800 872 201 for more information on how to make a donation.

TOPICS:  Human Rights Society

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