Over time, they become almost invisible; so much a part of the scenery that they are no longer seen.
But for the individuals whose lives have become a public spectacle, homelessness is a wound; to be managed daily.
Marion Thomas is the Muizenberg Improvement District’s social worker. Ms Thomas spoke to the False Bay Echo to outline a number of ways that the needs of the homeless are being managed and met, and also what the MID hopes to achieve long term – especially in how residents and visitors to Muizenberg can help – without giving handouts.
StreetSmart South Africa is one such option. It has been in operation since June 2005 under the founding patronage of Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu and is encouraged by Catherine Dillon of the Muizenberg Lakeside Residents’ Association, who is appealing to local restaurants to sign up.
“The beauty of StreetSmart is its simplicity,” said Ms Thomas.
In a StreetSmart restaurant a small, elegant card on the table informs patrons that a voluntary R5 will be automatically added to the table’s bill. If diners would like to add more – or none at all – they just need to inform their waiter.
Every cent of the funds raised through restaurants goes to the beneficiaries. All of the operational costs of StreetSmart are sponsored.
And best yet: the funds raised go to selected and approved organisations that run programmes for the normalisation of street and vulnerable children’s lives.
The restaurants in each town raise funds for their own community street children programmes.
Currently, there are only two StreetSmart restaurants in the far south, the Kalk Bay Theatre and The Lord Nelson Inn in Simon’s Town.
“We would love more restaurants to come on board so that we can have a local committee in place that will assist us in raising money for the programmes that we fund,” Ms Thomas says.
Ms Thomas also sits on the executive committee for the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum. The head of department for the provincial Department of Social Development, Dr Robert MacDonald, will be attending the next forum meeting, to be on hand and receive information on the situation at hand.
Ms Thomas said: “We are limited in organisational resources in the far south that concentrate solely on street people issues. However, the weekly Open Door that is run in the MID and the Kalk Bay/St James Special Ratings Area has yielded good outcomes thus far.”
She said that the Open Door takes a person-centred approach in order to empower individuals.
“We also believe in building strong working relationships in order for collaboration to take place. We cannot work in isolation and often require the support of other professionals in this sector. In so doing, we assist the person with a pathway out of homelessness that is in line with their needs,” Ms Thomas said.
She said part of their work is also to educate the greater community on the issues that often plague their clients – and how to sensitively engage with someone who is on the street.
“We really want to be mindful and help to restore our clients’ dignity and help the community become more aware of the bigger issues that those of us who work in this sector face, too,” she said.
Working with people who are homeless is not a “one size fits all” approach, she said.
“There are various channels of procedure that can be followed. Most times, street people are being policed/chased around the city without any sustainable intervention in practice. At the Open Door, we provide a safe space for any individual to come and seek help. It can sometimes be a lengthy process; but we take it one case at a time, in order for intervention to be sustainable,” she said.
Chevone Petersen, manager of MID, said: “We encourage individuals, business and organisations to help restore dignity to the people who are homeless by considering employing them.”
She said that the homeless have been very involved as clean-up support for many local events. She said that they are very keen to become part of any other jobs/skills development programmes. “Examples of this would be the Cape Mental Health International Kite Festival and Friends of Muizenberg Park who, through the MID, have been able to engage homeless people in clean-up campaigns before, during and after an event. The MID social worker, in this case Marion Thomas – together with the fieldworkers, are able to identify clients whom they are working with who may be suitable for such ad-hoc job creation initiatives,” Ms Petersen said.
“We are actively working with various stakeholders and partners to address the many challenges faced by both homeless people and street children,” Ms Petersen said.
Marion Wagner, chairperson of MID, and director of Breadline Africa, explained that she had initiated a clean-up programme a few years ago when she was the social development director of the MID.
She said the programme was run together with Safer Together and was done to restore dignity, allow homeless folk to get some work experience, help to store their personal belongings, earn vouchers in exchange for doing a valuable street cleaning project and to build up trust with the homeless to encourage them to use shelters and social workers to start a programme of reintegration.
“A few members of the team managed to find jobs and we helped them get ID books and return to families, where possible,” Ms Wagner said.
It was Ms Wagner who contacted Greg Damster, the Kite Festival event organiser, in 2014, to ask if the Kite Festival would consider using a team of homeless people to clean up after their event.
“We had used a team for the Earth Wave event the same year which worked very well. The Kite Festival has been a huge success for all parties ever since. We are extremely grateful to Cape Mental Health for trusting the team,” she said.
She said: “Some of our team did leave the streets; but the project only really had funds to accommodate six people every Saturday – and the need was much greater. The decision was then taken to use the services of a part time social worker instead (Marion Thomas) who has had great results,” Ms Wagner said.
Rushana Gasant was one of the MID team, along with Jannie Buffeleant and Jerome Mentoor, who helped clean up after the Kite Festival.
Ms Gansant said she was very grateful to the programme for the opportunity. “The people of Muizenberg know me; I am part of the community, I want to help. This is a good project, this is very good for us,” she said.
Both Mr Mentoor and Mr Buffeleant said the days work was a good experience for them.
Bokkie April has been on the streets too long to remember. She said she has no family left; just those who share their days with her now. “Muizenberg is very kind to me,” she said.