The lunch for 100 people at the Haven in Greenpoint on Christmas Day will possibly be more orderly than the affair I am attending in KwaZuluNatal (they are quite excitable in KZN, you got to love those Zulus).
Jerry from the Haven tells Call Off The Search that their lunch is no free-for-all (with a confidence that would make my Mum envious as she prepares to welcome all her own gypsies home).
A total of 100 people (75 men, 25 women) is full capacity for this Haven at any one time, though they are working towards adding another 5 beds for women.
The 100 guests for Christmas lunch will be less a collection of “street people” than a family of “homeless people”, every one of whom might hope that by this time next year they are back in a home of their own.
Street people, she said, seldom adhere to the rules and regulations that make life in a shelter manageable for most. Homeless people, on the other hand, have fallen on hard times and are keen to use the shelter system to get back on their feet. They want to get jobs and be reintegrated into society.
She added that she knows, of course, that life is not always just a simple choice between good and bad, happy and sad. Often the line between homeless and street people is blurred by mental disease, drug and alcohol abuse and a host of other hardships.
Jerry shed a little more light on the difference when we asked who could/would attend the lunch on Christmas Day. He said Haven is not just a refuge for anyone, whether or not they are interested in rehabilitation. Reunion with family, rehabilitation and reintegration are key aims in Haven’s mission. The organisation seeks to help people who want to be helped.
Jerry said he thought they were on target clothing-wise for their guests to feel decently dressed on the day, but added that they still needed food, toiletries and shoes, particularly men’s, to make sure that every guest had their most basic needs met on the day. Having their basic needs met, with a clean item of clothing, a shower, a meal, a sturdy pair of shoes, will surely be a wonderful Christmas gift.
After cold and hunger, lack of privacy must be up there as one of the worst things about being down, even if you are not out. Not surprising then that Jerry also mentioned curtains as something they needed, both as dividers for showers and for sleeping quarters.
Things people can donate: linen, towels, shower and general partitioning curtains, serving dishes and kitchen utensils and cutlery.
The menu for the day is not yet set, but Haven would be grateful for donations of dried goods (pasta, rice etc), canned food, spices, juices (fizzy drinks, fruit juices, cordials) and polystyrene cups.
Call Off The Search is happy to be a drop-off point for donations. Mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to drop something off with us (in Cape Town’s City Bowl). Please share comments, advice and suggestions using the Comment on this Story tab on this page.
The Cynic inside me is alive and well. She has been trying to find holes in my inner Do-Gooder’s new scheme to use Call Off The Search to drum up support for shelters for the homeless in the run up to Christmas.
I visited the Haven shelter in Napier Street Greenpoint/De Waterkant borders. It is basic, but clean and friendly. Two warm and professional ladies told me that not enough beds is one of the biggest problems they face. They said they never turn people away without trying to help them. When people arrive after the beds have already been taken they let people shower, give them a meal and/or something clean to wear. They will phone around and try to place them somewhere else.
Not surprisingly the beds that are available are often in towns and villages some way away from the centre of Cape Town. In this case they will provide the train fare for the journey. In rare cases, such as one last week when a woman and a young child were in desperate need, they have driven needy people to another Haven.
There are many ways to help. Cash donations are high on the list, as are clothes and toiletries. A toothbrush and a squeeze of toothpaste, for example, is among the basic necessities Haven gives every person who turns up there seeking shelter.
I asked a ‘homeless’ guy who I regularly give a few pennies to if he used shelters. I was surprised and pleased to hear a good luck story from this polite, older gentleman who looks like he hasn’t had much of it. A regular seller of the Homeless Talk magazine in my neighbourhood he told he has a bed for the moment. An elderly lady who has been laid low by a stroke had asked him to do her shopping and some other odd jobs in exchange for a bed while she gets back on her feet. He still has a way to go to get properly back on his feet, so to speak, but this certainly is an oasis on that road through the desert.
He can only hope to not have to use shelters regularly again, but said that some of them are preferable to sleeping rough. He agreed that the one in Napier Street really is a haven, but said that others were less hospitable and he understood why some homeless people preferred the street. Of course living in a confined space with people who have fallen on hard times, whether before or after developing drug and/or alcohol habits and etc, is going to have its challenges. It is difficult for me to imagine, though, that being on the street is better, but I believe this guy who has lived it.
Christmas in Haven
The haven shelter in Napier Street is having a pre-Christmas party on December 4. It is our mission to make Haven’s Christmas party heavenly. Please use the comment tab on this page to share your thoughts and offers of help. And watch this space!
This morning, instead of buying a half-price pedicure or a night in the winelands, I did some research on Haven shelters for the homeless. Maybe it happened because I have exchanged booze and carbs for swimming and walking this week; perhaps it was because I just blindly follow the trail of leads and prompts in my morning ritual of checking email, social media and news updates.
Either way, I was inspired to do this/wandered mindlessly there after reading an article on IOL.co.za about a woman who fell on hard times, ended up on the street and then in a shelter, which helped her back into some sort of decent life.
Following breadcrumbs online like this is normally the route to buying some shit that I didn’t know I needed until I saw it offered at 50% discount.
Today I discovered I could buy a ‘passport’ to a shelter for just R10. A homeless person can use this passport to pay for a shower, a clean set of clothes and a night in a shelter. Even to my distinctly middle class sensibilities this represents much better value than a R120 pedicure!
Living in the City Bowl of Cape Town I encounter quite a few people every single day who could surely benefit more from one of these vouchers than the few rand I always have handy to pass through the window as I drive around the city.
But, clearly, the people who sell R120 pedis have better marketing teams and web publishing services so it is not just a case of clicking a link, inserting credit card details and printing out vouchers.
I have often bought a reduced price night in the winelands or a discounted restaurant meal without getting out of bed in the morning. But today I learned that it is not always easy to burn money online. I went to the Haven (http://www.haven.org.za/) website and my quest to be lovely was stymied by broken links and 404 errors. There were also no Facebook, Twitter etc buttons to call friends and followers to action (… and build the philanthropic side of my personal brand).
Imagine if the people who run the marketing departments and social media campaigns of the discount voucher sellers applied their not-inconsiderable-skill to ‘bigging up’ the Haven shelters and selling these passports.
As luck would have it, the salon is full today so I am going to find one of these shelters to find out more and to buy some passports to give to people in the street and those who ring my bell asking for any help.
I will be sharing what I discover on www.CallOffTheSearch.com. I am hoping people will be inspired to get involved. Buy a passport, donate some old clothes to a shelter, help the Havens with their website/ and social media … and etc.
Any and all help, feedback and suggestions gratefully received.