Helping the homeless turn their lives around

At the meeting, from left, are U-Turn members Lise van den Dool, Stephen Underwood, Raymond Bowman, Jean-Ray Knighton Fitt, Jon Hopkins, Lindsey Adams and Fernando Classen.

Money that can be made from begging, crime and recycling and the relative safety of Claremont compared to gang-controlled neighbourhoods are just some of the factors drawing homeless people to the area.

So says Jean-Ray Knighton Fitt, the CEO of U-Turn, a non-profit organisation that helps people get off the streets.

He was speaking to about 100 people, including ward councillors Katherine Christie and Mikhail Manuel at a public meeting held at a Newlands hotel on Thursday October 12, two days after World Homeless Day, which is marked annually on October 10. 

Mr Knighton Fitt said U-Turn recognised that homelessness was not an acceptable lifestyle, and one that was neither good for the community nor the homeless person themselves. 

“We have recognised that everyone has potential, some of our staff came from the street to become successful leaders through our programme,” he said, describing how the organisation sought to lead people away from a life of addiction to find employment and homes of their own.

This year U-Turn unveiled two new projects to help the homeless: a new shelter in Claremont (“U-Turn unveils Claremont homeless shelter,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, June 15) and the Living Roots nursery (“U-Turn project promotes jobs and green living,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, April 20).

Crystal Davids, 33, of Retreat, joined U-Turn in 2020. She wasn’t homeless, but she had battled drug addiction for 14 years and wanted a new direction in her life. Today, with help from U-Turn’s drug-rehab and job-readiness programmes, she is now a receptionist at the organisation’s head office in Kenilworth.

“When I was addicted, I was never in my house, I always found myself sleeping on someone’s bed or outside somebody’s door,” she said.

Ms Davids said she understood that everyone had different reasons for ending up homeless, but they also had free will to seek help.

“I came to U-Turn because I wanted to improve myself. I wanted to know what I am capable of doing,” she said.

As a mother of three, she said U-Turn had also helped to make her a better parent and win the trust of her family.

Ms Davids urged the public to help the homeless responsibly by giving them Mi-Change vouchers instead of money as there was no guarantee the money would be used responsibly whereas the vouchers could be redeemed for a shower and shelter.

Visit homeless.org.za for more information about U-Turn.

Crystal Davids, 33, of Retreat, joined U-Turn in 2020 after battling a drug addiction for 14 years. Today, with help from U-Turn’s drug-rehab and job-readiness programmes, she is now a receptionist at the organisation’s head office in Kenilworth.