It’s simply unimaginable the effort homeless people must go to in order to wash and access basic sanitation services but this project is a simple, innovative solution to one part of the problem.
Western Cape, South Africa (03 December 2021) – The homeless communities of Claremont, Muizenberg and Mitchell’s Plain will soon be served by a mobile wash facility – a stunning new collaborative initiative by urban art NGO Baz-Art; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene NPO Viva con Agua; funded and supported by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the German Consulate General in Cape Town.
The project will provide critical wash facilities to some of the city’s most vulnerable and overlooked people. The first phase of the project is to co-design the facility with people experiencing homelessness to get their insight into what the facility needs.
In March 2020, it was estimated that Cape Town has over 14,300 homeless individuals and just two water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities (WASH), both of which are based in the CBD. Shelters also provide WASH facilities but are extremely stretched, with just 2,500 beds available, reportedly.
With water being a basic human right and critical to human dignity, the feasibility study found a mobile wash facility may be a sustainable way to broaden access to more people. The initiative aims to help restore people’s confidence, make them feel, seen and respected, and reintegrate them into the communities they live in. It’s part of a larger system of social support.
Alexandre Tilmans, the founder of Baz-Art, says, “The facility provides basic services and forms part of a bigger network of NGOs with a shared mission of broad social development. Our aim is for the facility to be the first point of call to provide critical interventions to empower people to start the journey to reintegrate into communities.”
German Consul General Tanja Werheit is very happy that the project is shouldered by a broad network of organisations: “Water plays a fundamental role in sustaining life. We need water for core human needs. We as the German Consulate are happy to support such an important initiative.”
The initiative is further supported by U-Turn, which has over 20 years of experience in assisting Cape Town’s homeless, and GoBanyo, which piloted the original remodelled mobile facility in Germany. GoBanyo was created based on the insight that if people are treated like dirt, they start to feel like dirt. Founded by a previously homeless individual, it promotes unconditional acceptance. This is a founding principle for the Cape Town initiative as well.
For most of us, accessing water is an act we don’t think about. We turn on the tap. For the homeless, it’s a daily difficulty. Talking to individuals, Baz-Art and partners heard many heart-breaking stories, from people being chased away from toilets by security guards to bathing in freezing rivers at night. One person said they hang a 20-litre container on a tree so that no one steals it, so they can wash their clothes and body. Another said they carry a 5-litre bottle to their closest tap at the taxi rank.
A woman spoke of the difficulty of menstruation, “When we get our periods, where must we throw our pads? I put the sanitary towel in the bin, wrapped in newspaper.”
Being clean was seen as a point of pride. “I like to be clean when I walk in the street. People mustn’t think ‘ah this one is smelly!”. Being clean is also perceived as synonymous with opportunity. “People give you opportunities because now they are seeing that you actually want to help yourself.”
This mobile wash facility is a beautiful example of what partnerships can achieve. A collaboration between foreign and local NGOs, it has been specifically created for South Africa’s context. Its sustainable management and growth will be overseen by all stakeholders, with the bigger goal always in mind: To provide the care and kindness people need to be connected to empowering networks of support, and feel like fulfilled members of the communities they live in.
The facility designers are looking to include the provision of toiletries, a hot shower, clean clothes and laundry facilities. It’s inclusive by design, with the mission to make its guests feel part of the project at every touchpoint.
Ajay Paul from Viva con Agua concludes, “For many of us, the hardest part of keeping clean is finding the energy to get out of bed to turn on the shower. It’s simply unimaginable the effort homeless people must go to in order to wash and access basic sanitation services. It robs people of their dignity. It takes away their confidence to pursue work and a livelihood. Our project is a simple, innovative solution to one part of the problem. It’s not a silver bullet. It’s the start of a bigger journey to empower people to rebuild their lives. It’s a privilege to be part of this.”