MES-empowering homeless for 30 years

Mould Empower Serve Cape Town branch manager Lilly Franks.

Unemployment, hunger, homelessness, drugs and children who fall through gaps in the education system, continue to fuel the cycle of poverty in Cape Town.

Lilly Franks, Mould Empower Serve (MES) Cape Town branch manager, emphasised the stark reality many face when she spoke at a meeting Kenridge residents held at the Durbanville Rose Garden, last week, to discuss homelessness in the area.

MES, which marks its 30th anniversary this year, emphasises giving a hand up instead of a handout and has several initiatives helping the homeless, including the Grow Project, MES food vouchers and their Centres of Hope.

The Grow Project, run in Bellville and Durbanville, pays homeless people up to R55 for a four-hour work shift. At the same time, compulsory workshops help to build their confidence, which, says Ms Franks, helps MES rehabilitate them “so they can be integrated back into society as working people”.

But there’s a problem: MES simply doesn’t have enough shelter beds for the number of people it’s trying to help. According to MES’s statistics, there are about 800 homeless people in the northern suburbs and only 240 beds for them in Bellville, Parow and Kraaifontein.

MES is trying to work around this by leasing the Old Scout Hall in AJ West Street, Bellville (“Project for Bellville’s homeless, Northern News, July 28). At the hall, the homeless have a safe place to sleep at a cost of R8 a night. But there’s only room for between 20 to 40 people a night.

GiveWise Foundation founder Lucinda Valentine said by giving handouts, residents often unintentionally made things harder both for the homeless and the social workers trying to help them.

“As a social worker, residents make it even harder for us to get homeless people off the streets, as they are being maintained here and have no need to leave the area,” she said.

At the meeting, residents asked why law enforcement couldn’t simply remove homeless people from the streets.

However, JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, tells Northern News that officers can only do that if someone is breaking the law.

“Law enforcement cannot ‘remove’ anybody from any space. The officers can only enforce the by-laws and national legislation. While arrests can be made for serious criminal offences, no arrests are possible for by-law infringements,” he says.

“Only a fine can be issued for by-law contraventions, but this is not viable in cases where people have no fixed address as the notice requires a residential address to be valid.

“If the fine for a by-law contravention is not paid (which is often the case with many of the offenders in question) then a warrant of arrest will need to be issued and these warrants need to be signed by the magistrate.”

Brackenfell resident Nick Van Rooyen told the meeting that his neighbourhood had managed to reduce the number of homeless people in the area from 300 to 40, over a four-year period, through “focused partnerships” with the community at large, neighbourhood watches, businesses and churches.

“Homeless people are part of society, and it’s important to view them as human beings at the end of the day. It took us a long time, but we are slowly but surely starting to see results.”

He encouraged residents to take hands and to get out of their comfort zones, if they were serious about addressing this issue.

Ward 70 councillor Andrea Crous said Kenridge park, on the corner of Tygerbergvalley Road and Mildred Street, and De Bron were some of the spots where the homeless tended to congregate.

Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development, tells Northern News that Durbanville CBD, the cemeteries, Durban Road and Old Oak Road, are also often occupied by the homeless, although she says their numbers have been stable over the past two years.

Ms Crous told the residents that it was important for them to “give responsibly” and help find solutions, by donating their money and time to organisations helping the homeless.

“Getting to know your own neighbourhood and residents will also help in assisting, as we have many residents older than 80 years of age who are still staying alone in their houses and also need help from time to time on their properties,” she said.