Project for Bellville’s homeless

Voortrekker Road City Improvement District (VRCID) social development manager Wilma Piek.

An old scout hall in Bellville will soon offer homeless people a safe place to sleep at night.

Mould Empower Serve (MES) and the Voortrekker Road City Improvement District (VRCID) have spent two years trying to lease the property in AJ West Street from the City of Cape Town to use it as a refuge, where homeless people can doss down at night and participate in upliftment programmes during the day. The project is called the Safe Info Space.

MES is now signing the lease and the facility is expected to open its doors in coming months if all goes according to plan.

VRCID social development manager, Wilma Piek, spoke about the project at a Bellville Community Police Forum (BCPF) meeting on Thursday July 21.

“We do not have nearly enough bed space at our shelter in Bellville. This Safe Info Space is a step up from the streets.

“Many times we find that the people who sleep on the streets are not necessarily ready to go to a shelter, but they would like to have a safe space to sleep. This gives the social outreach component of MES, VRCID and the City an opportunity to offer an alternative to sleeping on the street, as well as to start engaging with the person and empowering them to make positive choices,” she said.

The facility can accommodate between 50 to 70 people during the day and 20 to 40 people at night who will pay R5 to sleep outside under carport structures on a first-come-first-served basis. Those using the facility must be 18 or older and be prepared to meet with auxiliary workers. No alcohol, drugs or animals will be allowed on the premises.

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“The outcome of the project is to improve the safety and hygiene of homeless people, while reducing the harm done to them and by them, and to increase the safety and cleanliness of the CBD,” Ms Piek said.

The issue of homeless people in Bellville was discussed at a previous BCPF meeting by Mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development, Suzette Little. (“Holding on to a dream called home,” Northern News April 28)

At the meeting, Ms Little said the suburb ranked among the top five areas in the metro with the largest number of street people. She confirmed that the establishment of the facility was being led by the VRCID and would be managed by MES.

A City survey in 2015, found 4 862 people living on the street and 2 521 people living in shelters, said Ms Little.

In our earlier story, Northern News spoke to Giovanni Williams, who had been living on the streets for close to five years. He sleeps on cardboard boxes at either the Bellville library or market.

“I do use the Haven Night Shelter Bellville but they have a rotation policy to give everyone a chance,” he said.

He pays R12 a night to stay at the shelter and often gets a meal from the local feeding scheme.

Lilly Franks, branch manager of MES Cape Town, said the organisation wants to establish similar centres in all the inner city district communities. This facility at the scout hall will be part of the services offered by MES’s Bellville branch.

Street people will have a safe place to sleep as well as access to ablution facilities and a place to keep their personal documents.

“These ‘centres’ are places that can give light to the poor, broken and homeless people who are constantly facing darkness,” she said.

Ms Piek said an alternative venue had had to be found for the scouts and renovations had also been needed.

“It is an ideal spot, because it is not in a residential area and it is in an area where we have a big problem of people sleeping and living in the rough or on the streets,” she said.

BCPF interim chairman, Hennie Koekemoer, said the community needed to put pressure on the City and the Department of Social Development to deal with homelessness in the area.

“We have a catch-22 situation where all neighbourhood watches are chasing the homeless from one spot to another and we are not achieving much by this,” he said.

BCPF member, Tommy van Zyl, praised MES and VRCID for their efforts, but voiced doubts about the plan’s workability.

“How are you, the police and law enforcement going to enforce this? As a resident and businessman, I have to pay tax, and, if I don’t, there are repercussions.

“The homeless need to be forced to take part in this, as the criminal elements on the streets do not want to be rehabilitated,” he said.

Blommendal Neighbourhood Watch chairman, Eugene Grobler, agreed.

“The plan sounds good in theory, but how will it be enforced? We have a big problem with homeless people along Old Paarl Road. We need to be pro-active in addressing this issue, as we need to move the criminal elements out of our area,” he said.

Mr Koekemoer said he was excited about the pilot project and called on the community and neighbourhood watches to support it.

Ms Franks said MES needed support to run the project as it could not do it alone.

“Most NGOs face the dilemma of expanding their services due to limited resources. The MES vision is to ‘change the heart of the city’, but we need individuals, government, businesses and churches to take hands with us to ensure a sustainable change.”

Some of the centre’s immediate needs include perimeter fencing, motorised gates, carport structures with concrete slabs, 40 mattresses with plastic covering, lockers and ablution facilities.

* To get involved contact MES at 021 949 8736 or email prcapetown@mes.org.za