Winter Shelters vulnerable blanket drive
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Ground-breaking projects are giving the homeless in Cape Town CBD a chance to move off the streets.


Western Cape, South Africa (19 June 2023) – In a bid to reintegrate vulnerable street individuals into society, the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) is running two innovative work-based rehabilitation projects in town.

“P” was sexually abused twice as a young girl. Her family didn’t believe her and so she turned to drugs to cope with the trauma. By the time she was 11, she was on and off the streets, starting a 20-year cycle of addiction and homelessness. But she kept trying to improve her situation, never giving up hope, and seeking help from TB HIV Care, a not-for-profit organisation working to prevent TB and HIV, and assisting people who are infected to find the right kind of care.

P’s determination to change her fate made her an ideal candidate to join a ground-breaking collaboration between TB HV Care and the Cape Town Central City Improvement District’s (CCID) Social Development department, two not-for-profit organisations working to improve the lives of the homeless community in the Cape Town CBD.

Homelessness is a complex issue that requires multi-faceted solutions, says CCID Social Development manager Tara Gerardy. One of these is the project on which P is now a participant. Called the Peer Fieldworker Project (PFP), it’s a CCID-funded programme with TB HIV Care in Cape Town for homeless clients who have shown maturity, determination and the ability to put things in place to change their circumstances.

Philile Mkhize, CCID Social Development Projects Supervisor, explains: “Candidates who are selected for this project are trained by the CCID Social Development team and TB HIV Care to help other street people, so they need to have a proven track record that they are able to change their own behaviour, and are successfully managing their own substance usage.”

Receiving training and helping her peers has changed P’s life. She is no longer on the street and is once again living at home. Mother to two daughters, whose childhoods passed her by, she is now expecting a baby in August and confident that this time, things will be different. Her dream is to get her Peer Fieldworker Project certificate and start a programme for the children of addicts.

“Today you still get people who treat the homeless like rubbish. It breaks my heart, it’s so sad. I believe that change is possible. I always tell my clients, ‘Keep the faith and don’t lose hope. If you get the opportunity, give it your all’.” She adds that working as a peer fieldworker has been amazing and challenging, “In the process, you never stop working on yourself. Every client you meet teaches you something different. It’s just an awesome feeling to know that I can help somebody.”

Hope for the Homeless

Homelessness is systemic across the Western Cape, with an estimated 14,000 people living on the streets in the greater Cape Town area, where there are only 3,500 shelter beds available. The homeless population in the city centre could be as large as 5,000 individuals, with only about 1,500 shelter beds – with more capacity created during the cold winter months.

Gerardy says the success of work rehabilitation projects can be measured by various factors including employment and health outcomes, economic and social impact, and participant feedback.

She notes: “Measuring success requires a combination of these factors and varies depending on the project’s goal. Regular evaluation and adjustments are necessary to ensure the programme has the desired results.”

Holistic work rehabilitation programmes are often seen as a silver bullet. They have the potential to reduce the burden on social welfare programmes, provide social support, decrease crime, amplify community engagement and encourage economic growth. Most importantly, they restore dignity to some of the city’s most overlooked and vulnerable individuals.

CCID field worker Mark Williams says that, above all, work-based rehabilitation programmes help people who’ve been rendered invisible by society to be seen.

Gerardy concurs, saying the ideal is when a programme leads to a participant being able to reintegrate back into their families, having increased their self-esteem and self-confidence, and improved their mental and physical health (which includes a reduction in substance abuse).

Supporting the most vulnerable

Another CCID Social Development project is proving to do just that. Called the Public Employment Programme (PEP), it is a collaborative project with NGOs, local businesses and other stakeholders and helps the homeless find stable employment while addressing their substance social, legal, medical and economic needs. In short, it aims to provide a comprehensive solution to homelessness.

A City of Cape Town project funded by National Treasury, PEP operates across Cape Town. Through its NGO partner Khulisa Social Solutions, the CCID came on board in the Cape Town CBD in January 2022, providing training and psychosocial support to a group of participants. The project is based on the Foreshore, and the team operates from a shipping container (donated by Maersk) in the grounds of the Artscape Theatre Centre.

Clients are recruited based on the following criteria: they are homeless, located in the city centre, and willing to work and engage in psychosocial services. The CCID assists participants with obtaining an ID document and bank account. Participants are paid a stipend and the work opportunity is treated like any other employment to support the individual’s success towards societal reintegration.

Overall, PEP has helped 423 homeless clients collectively among partners, with 57 street people having participated in the CCID-Khulisa Foreshore project. Of these, only three were of the original intake which started in January 2022. The project targets people who have been homeless for over a year, as well as substance users willing to use the harm-reduction approach to create positive change in their lives.

Changing Stories, Changing lives

Needless to say, the challenges are immense. Most participants who leave do so to take up other employment opportunities, or because they are unable to maintain the six-hour shift and cannot yet commit to overcoming their circumstances.

Gerardy says that good hygiene, positive behaviour, family reunification, decreased substance usage and moving off the street are the main indicators of change that show the programme is benefitting its participants.

Many participants may drop out. But there are people like P who turn their lives around. S is another individual working hard to carve a different path. With a million-dollar smile and a sherpa hat, he’s a young man who came to Cape Town seeking opportunities to help support his family. He struggled to find work so ended up on the streets for two years.

He joined PEP and is now applying for funding to start his own fast-food stall in the city centre, selling hamburgers and hot dogs. PEP’s money management and business lessons will hopefully help make this passion a real-life project soon.

Another aspect of PEP is the fact that it’s bringing families back together. W left his wife and home after he found out she was cheating on him. He lost his job and pawned his possessions to provide for his two children. Whatever he had, he gave to them. He turned to alcohol to cope with his stress, moving between shelters and jobs, then back to the Eastern Cape to nurse his sick mother. He returned to Cape Town and heard about the PEP programme.

He says, “I’m happy being on this programme. We’re getting lessons. They want us to build ourselves, so we can stand on our own and bring our family together. That’s what I am doing. I’ve got a room in Langa now and I want to make a home for me, so I can call my children and say this is where you can find me. I am here. I want to come back to my normal life. I will never give up.”

Gerardy concludes that the CCID Social Development team is dedicated to helping to restore hope and dignity to some of the most marginalised individuals. For her, it’s a vocation, “For over a decade, I have dedicated myself to this work. As someone with a former substance use issue, I am able to empathise with clients, and to build relationships with them. I find a deep sense of purpose and fulfilment in helping marginalised individuals overcome their challenges and achieve stability.

The CCID’s PEP team meets every morning at the Artscape, to chat around the fire and build each other up, and then tackle the day’s tasks, often in collaboration with the CCID’s Urban Management department. It’s hugely humbling and a great privilege to visit them.

*Special thanks to P, S and W for sharing their stories so generously.

Sources: Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID)
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