A little dignity leads to new hope

Lemone McKay is studying hospitality and has been welcomed back by her family.
The Haven Night Shelter has been a refuge for the homeless since 1978, and the non-profit now has 15 shelters in and around Cape Town, but the one in Bellville does things a little differently.

“Bellville’s shelter is a bit unique in that we take in more drug addicts than the rest, and as far as I know we are the ones who take in heroin addicts,” says George Nackerdien, the manager of the Bellville shelter.

“At the moment, we have 58 clients and 44 of them are drug addicts; about 10 are heroin addicts.”

Mr Nackerdien said that unlike other drugs, recoving from heroin required constant attention, as users could not just give it up immediately and often needed psychiatric treatment.

We also operate the shelter like it is a big house with one massive family. Each client has their own programme which we design specifically for them, and we all help each other.

I believe in being my brother’s keeper, and everybody who is part of the shelter, whether they are staff or they live here, all look out for each other and treat each other with dignity.”

According to Mr Nackerdien, from April last year to March this year, the Bellville shelter helped 265 people either reunite with their families or were reintergrated into society, with 139 of those being former drug addicts. 

“At the shelter, we do our best to make people feel like they are part of the family, but we have a broader family that helps everybody here. We have various rehab centres that we make use of, while we also have a partnership with Karl Bremmer Hospital for our medical needs.

Often we provide transport to and from rehab centres, but if a specialist needs to come to the shelter we do that as well.”  

For Marco Thorne, the shelter has not only been his home for the past six years, it also helped him quit a 16-year relationship with heroin.

“I grew up in Lentegeur in Mitchell’s Plain, and after I became an addict, I was staying on the streets of Town Centre and in 2014 I was at my worst. I used to go to an organisation in Mitchell’s Plain that helps homeless people, but I would just eat breakfast there, and then I’d run away. It was through that organisation that I was sent to the Bellville shelter and that’s when I met Uncle George.”

Mr Thorne, 40, has worked as a waiter and barista, and he has also worked on cruise ships all over the world. He said things had not always been easy when he first arrived at the shelter.

“Unfortunately I have had quite a few setbacks during my time here. Right now, I’m here for the third time, but despite that Uncle George has never given up hope. He always just tells me that it’s not my season and he encourages me. He has been a father figure to me and I’m so grateful that I have this chance to get ly life back.”

Lemone McKay, 26, is one of 13 women at the shelter. For her the shelter is a way for her to be part of her five-year-old son’s life.

“I have been staying by the shelter for a year and three months now, and my life has changed so much. From feeling broken and being a drug addict, I now feel like I can do  anything. My son lives with a foster parent in Wellington, and I am now able to arrange visits for us to see each other. 

My aunt has started welcoming me back into the family, and I will be spending some time with her over the December holidays while I am also studying hospitality. I am really thankful for everything that has been done for me.”  

Everyone staying at the shelter pays a fee for its service such as being fed and being able to bathe.

“For people who are unemployed, we ask for R13 a day while those who are employed are charged R1 100 a month. I also allow them to work around the house fro like an hour doing chores to earn their keep,” said Mr Nackerdien.