The Net celebrates its first anniversary

Anthony Smith lived under the Clovelly bridge for many years before joining The Net.

The Net, a daytime activity venue for the homeless, marked its one-year anniversary on Tuesday March 2.

Founder Carolyn Axmann says it started – at the Fish Hoek Methodist Church youth hall initially – following consultations with the community, churches, the Fish Hoek Community Police Forum (CPF), ward councillors and the homeless during 2019.

“The first day was quite stressful,” she recalls. “I was terrified no-one would arrive, but at the same time I was fearful of being inundated with homeless demanding food. The food we planned didn’t arrive but again the Methodist Church and one of its Simon’s Town members, Malinda Coetzee, came to the rescue with a chicken a la king donation.”

There were 13 homeless people there, including three who are still with The Net and who, she says, have made very good progress within one year.

Joe Lotter is one of them. He has since left the streets. Anthony Smith lived under the Clovelly bridge for many years and was addicted to drugs. He is also off the streets and undergoing drug rehabilitation at Living Hope. Gerald Prinsloo received his replacement South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) card in January with the help of The Net. He says leaving the streets is a fearful experience, but “The Net gives everyone the chance to aspire to be something which is beautiful”.

Roxanne Combrink now works for The Net as an admin assistant.

Roxanne Combrink, helped The Net pack and distribute food parcels during lockdown in March last year. She has been off drugs now for more than five months and works as an admin assistant while studying part time.

“Without Carolyn,” she says, “I would not have achieved any of this. I have been clean for almost six months, have my son with me and my life is finally going somewhere.”

Ms Axman says that although The Net is based on Christian principles, it’s not unique to the Christian faith and anyone is welcome.

The Net works with Living Hope, which provides nurses, counselling and drug rehabilitation; Heart Project, which runs art therapy; My Father’s House, which feeds the homeless; Happy Valley, which provides accommodation; the City’s Reintegration Unit, which has field workers helping the homeless; Eco Hoek, which helps the homeless earn their own money; and the Methodist Church, St Margaret’s Anglican Church and St Kieran’s Presbyterian Church.

“We are very grateful for the privilege of working with all these amazing people and we hope that more churches and community organisations will support our cause in the future,” says Ms Axman.

A craft workshop at The Net.

In June last year, the Net moved to its current venue in Kommetjie Road and accommodation became available above the premises for 12 previously homeless people.

“We cannot force an addict to give up drugs and alcohol and, likewise, we cannot force an individual off the street,” says Ms Axman. “They need to want to make the change, and this can be quite scary for those who have been living on the streets for an extended period of time.”

The change, she adds, can be made more difficult by residents who enable homelessness and begging by giving into requests for food, clothing, blankets and money.

The Net, she says, approaches homelessness holistically. “We try to introduce normalcy such as eating a meal together at tables, providing personal development programmes and crafts, access to nurses, trauma and drug counsellors with the ultimate vision of providing on-going, regular skills development and work opportunities which mitigates dependence on begging.”

Living Hope’s Reverend John Thomas says The Net fills a much needed gap in the valley. “We are grateful that we can serve the community with them,” he says.

Ward councillor Aimee Kuhl praised The Net for providing employment during the hard lockdown and helping with food parcels. The organisation has grown to become a trust NGO in the valley, she says. “I look forward to working with them in years to come.”

Email admin@thenet.org.za for more information about The Net or if you want to volunteer.