Talk explores healthy way of looking at the homeless

Director of Soteria Ministries Johann Kikillus speaks about the increase in homelessness in the far south.

Being homeless is the most horrific experience on earth, says Johann Kikillus.

The director of Soteria Ministries spoke to a small group of far south residents and members of civic groups, on Wednesday night October 21 about a “healthy way to deal with homelessness”.

As someone who has worked with social issues for 18 years, including drug-and-gang rehabilitation at Pollsmoor Prison for five years, Mr Kikillus said he was shocked to see the extent of homelessness in Fish Hoek and surrounds.

According to a 2018 study by the City of Cape Town, there are 946 homeless people in the far south and 3 999 in the streets of the city, of which 2 084 are in shelters.

Mr Kikillus said there were two camps of thinking on homeless: one group wanted the problem to go away; the other wanted to help solve it. But those offering help then found themselves trapped as they hadn’t realised how big the problem was and their good intentions turned toxic for the community.

That good intention trapped the homeless person on the street because their daily needs were taken care of.

Mr Kikillus said that while some homeless people claimed to enjoy their freedom on the streets, his counselling sessions at Pollsmoor told a different story.

“I can tell you that Pollsmoor is not a pleasant place to be, but many homeless men and women deliberately put themselves into prison. They called it a holiday. If Pollsmoor is a holiday, what must it be like on the streets?”

Mr Kikillus has worked with some of the homeless at False Bay Hospital who suffer from mental illnesses. Many did not collect their medications regularly, and an episode of schizophrenia mixed with tik or mandrax could result in violence.

Many homeless were abused on the streets, especially those with mental illness, and many were involved with gangs and became drug mules or “puppets” to get their daily fix.

“If they don’t comply, they are severely abused,” he said.

Every homeless person was a human being and not an “object” and people should stop treating them like objects, he said.

People became homeless not out of choice but because of mental illness, gender-based violence, family conflict, abuse or trauma.

The public’s attitude towards the homeless needed to change and communities should work with rehab organisations such as The Net, Mr Kikillus said. The homeless were drawn to Fish Hoek, he added, because of the many “soft targets” in the far south, he said.

“They know there’s good food and good money. And these people enable them to stay in their circumstances.”

“A woman told me she made R600 a day in Simon’s Town from begging,” he said.

Mr Kikillus said there was a social development office, social workers and City officials in Fish Hoek, and he asked why the homeless were not getting help from them.

Those at the meeting concluded that the City was leaving the task to community organisations to solve.

Social worker and one of the directors of The Net, Abigail Ornellas, said shelters, psychiatric care, rehabilitation and safe houses were short-term services.

“There is a gap here – a rung of the ladder has been removed, and it’s one hell of a leap from a 21-day rehabilitation programme to self-sufficiency. What is needed is affordable, incubator housing, an in-between space where someone can transition from short-term intervention into society in a way that exercises their self-autonomy and skills.”

The Net’s founder, Carolyn Axmann, said each person transitioned at their own pace and they still needed their basic needs taken care of while doing so.

“We really need community support. I have designed and printed flyers to tell people to hand up and not out, but this gets expensive when they just go in letterboxes.”

Pastor Shaddie Valayadum, of My Father’s House, feeds 40 homeless people in Simon’s Town and 70 in Fish Hoek daily. He also feeds the elderly and children in Masiphumelele, Sunny Acres caravan park, Glencairn Heights and Capricorn.

Getting the homeless off the street and keeping them off the street was easier said than done, he said.

Many homeless still had basic needs, such as a warm meal, during their transitioning period and withholding it from them would not make them transition any faster and could cause a relapse.

Fish Hoek police spokesman, Warrant Officer Peter Middelton, said the community seemed to be divided on how to deal with the issue. “Being homeless is not an offence, but no person is above the law,” he said.

He encouraged the public to support local organisations working with the homeless instead of giving hand-outs.

Joshua Chigome spokesman for Social Development MEC Sharna Frenandez said that under Covid-19 guidelines, municipalities were responsible for homeless people not in shelters. They had to offer alternative accommodation such as community halls to house them. That, he said, was standard procedure during large-scale disasters. The department also funded NGOs helping the homeless, he said.