Housing Street People

Housing Street People

The rehabilitation of street people has been an ongoing social issue in South Africa for all of its existence. Currently, 14,000 homeless people are living on the streets of Cape Town, and 320,000 people are said to be in the housing queue. The government’s response has been lethargic, and the local authorities have not given enough practical attention or funding to the problem.

Street people are typically associated with rising crime, lack of hygiene, mental issues, substance abuse, the accumulation of rubbish and reduced housing prices where they have set up a community, amongst other issues. This causes a time and financial burden on the police and social services as they are called to address the problem.

Taking up this gap in social development has caused various NGOs in South Africa to conduct projects where street people are interviewed, and the people deemed most likely to succeed are offered housing for free in exchange for entering a social upliftment program. Those deemed most suitable are those who express a genuine desire to get off their substance abuse, be it drugs or alcohol.

One such NGO, Streetscapes, has taken up the initiative in an unusual way, in that they do not operate a “sober house” system. Still, street people (now called beneficiaries if they have contracted into the program) are allowed to continue their substance abuse outside of the housing they have been allocated. They are not, however, allowed to bring substances into the house or use substances within the house. The idea is that, through the upliftment program, beneficiaries will lower or cease their substance abuse of their own accord. The NGO follows a successful model from Scandinavia.

The upliftment program allows beneficiaries to receive program participation stipends to pay rent for the housing they occupy and use. Participation includes entry-level work opportunities, life skills, ongoing work readiness training, and one-on-one/group sessions to assist with rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. The housing includes three daily meals, washing, showers, a bed, a locker, and a TV.

The beneficiary’s participation consists of either sweeping the streets of designated areas of Cape Town or working in one of three organic gardens set up on the slopes of Table Mountain and at a farm just outside the city. They also farm free-range eggs and wash clothes in an eco-friendly laundromat. The program participation hours are 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, and weekends are free.

The program also includes education on drug and alcohol abuse, medical services, substance rehabilitation and individual attention by a team of supervisors and social workers. This team assists the beneficiaries in setting tailored goals and timelines, budgeting, family issues, substance abuse and counselling amongst other services.

The ultimate goal is to upskill each beneficiary so that they are marketable for jobs. To this end, the NGO has partnered with the City Improvement Districts and various businesses to provide an achievable route to market. To date, the rate of people moving off the streets is 85% within six months of joining.

The model is working and is being “tweaked” constantly as conditions or new approaches are discovered. Cape Town
The country needs more initiatives like this, where NGOs partner with businesses, other NGOs, and the city to alleviate the problem of street people. The government does not have social upliftment as a priority.