As the city’s homeless shelters prepare to welcome scores of destitute people during winter, a group of pensioners at The Haven Night Shelter claim they are being subjected to “pay up or get out” attitudes, forcing them onto the streets at the worst possible time of year.
Resident James Terblanche, speaking on behalf of residents at the organisation’s Napier Street, Green Point shelter, said a man who had been “kicked out” of the facility a year ago had been found dead recently on the streets, where he had taken to squatting at Cape Town Station’s minibus taxi rank.
Mr Terblanche claimed even though the man, whom he identified as Jan Block, had been known for having a “bit of a drinking problem”, the real reason he had been asked to leave the shelter was because he could no longer afford the annual fee increases.
However, in a detailed response to the complaints, sent to the provincial Department of Social Development, the City and the Tatler, The Haven chief executive Hassan Khan categorically rejected Mr Terblanche’s charge that The Haven was “making millions of rands out of us with minimal expenditure”. While he confirmed the fee increase, he said the organisation had not had regular increases of fees and, consequently, was “working with a backlog”.
The Haven has 15 shelters in and around Cape Town. In an email sent to the City and the Tatler, Mr Terblanche said in the 2015 national Budget, pensioners at The Haven Night Shelter received only R50 increase which “disappeared” after the shelter increased its fees by the same amount.
“This year, 2016, we received a paltry R90 increase which is again being wiped out by the shelter increasing its fees by a whopping R150 from R750 to R900 a month.This has become an unbearable burden on the poorest of the poor and happens with unfailing regularity year after year, especially during the winter months when pensioners are at their most vulnerable,” Mr Terblanche said.
“We are actually worse off every year, and we don’t look forward to the annual budget anymore.There are thousands of pensioners and grantees in Haven Night Shelters in the Western Cape.”
He described the situation as “scandalous” and a violation of residents’ basic human rights and dignity.
“I am going to find myself out on the streets this winter. I cannot afford to stay at The Haven anymore.”
But Mr Khan said The Haven not only had to cover its running costs, it also had to pay to reintegrate homeless people back into society, as that was not covered by the City.
Income at The Haven in Napier Street is derived mainly from the Department of Social Development’s families programme, shelter fees and a grant from head office.
“As at Mach 31 this year, the shelter shows a loss of R304 806. Cash reserves are less than two months’ operating costs. Creditors are owed R445 661. This shelter has seven staff members — a manager, social worker, four hosts and a fieldworker. The average salary for all seven staff members is R8 393,” Mr Khan said.
“We should perhaps use arithmetic here and compare the disposable income of a Haven client to other grant recipients living within the community. The state provides R1 500 per month to a grantee. The Haven supplies him with all his needs including shelter, food, clothing, toiletries and social work services to help him home. Why should he not pay R900 for all of his services and have R600 as discretionary disposable income after all of his needs have been met?
“Many in South Africa on a grant sustain their families with the grant and have no discretionary disposable income left after meeting their basic needs.”
Not everyone at The Haven receives a grant or pension. However, after the first six days of being accommodated at the facility, they are expected to pay R12 a day, or alternatively take up a job with The Haven, assisting with cleaning or other day-to-day operations.
Mr Khan said while he did not have any details on Mr Block, it was possible that The Haven had terminated services to him.
“The Haven exists to help adult homeless persons back to a home, family and community. As per the provincial norms and standards for shelters, we work hard on making the transition from street to a home within a six-month period. Where clients do not co-operate with our social worker, we provide the person with an opportunity to demonstrate cooperation before we end the relationship with him/her.
“We don’t operate a blacklist. Former clients are free to reapply for our assistance, as many do. Assistance provided by The Haven is always in pursuit of our mission to assist adult homeless persons back to a home, family and community.”
Mr Khan said it was likely the shelter fees would be increased annually by at least the inflation rate. Furthermore, grant recipients and working clients would, in all likelihood, be required to pay more than the inflation rate increases over the next three years. This was because of the backlog.
“Ideally we will incentivise their exit from the shelters by narrowing the cost of shelter versus the cost of living within the community. We will of course make provision for the indigent not to be disadvantaged for lack of money,” he said.
The onset of winter presents tremendous challenges for homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Extra bed space becomes a top priority, as those who are able to get by on the streets during the warmer months no longer are able to do so.
A study released last year by the City’s social development directorate, “Street People Research 2014/15”, revealed that there were 7 383 homeless people in Cape Town, but of those, 4 862 were living on the streets. The remainder were presumed to be housed in shelters.
“We have already increased our beds from 35 to 42,” said Riana Esterhuyse, a social worker at the Loaves and Fishes shelter in Mowbray. “Although we are a second-phase shelter (providing shelter to people who want to undergo rehabilitation and are sober) there is still a great need to assist people during winter. Usually, we only run our soup kitchen a few days a week, but now we will be providing hot meals five days a week.”
Loaves and Fishes staff are also intending to install a toilet facility that can be used during scheduled lunch or dinner times.
The Kenilworth-based non-profit U-turn plans to continue with its voucher system, which it says proved particularly successful last winter. The vouchers help the public put homeless people in contact with U-turn for food, clothing and long-term assistance.
“Our doors are always open, and we emphasise our voucher system to help the homeless. Last year, during winter we averaged about 800 vouchers a month, and we are looking to improve on that this year,” said U-turn director Sam Vos.
“We will also be hosting a fund-raising ‘high tea’ for the ladies on Saturday, July 9, which we hope will bring in much-needed funds to help the homeless. We encourage those interested to view our Facebook page for more information.”
The Haven says it would have liked to have opened its dining halls to offer emergency shelter to the homeless during winter, as it did previously, but it was now prevented from doing so by provincial norms and standards.
“(These) include a population certificate from the local authorities, which specifies the number of clients who we may have on the premises at any one time. Our hands are tied,” Mr Khan said.
“Our response is to help applicants to the nearest shelters where beds are available so that they may be assessed by a social worker and possible reintegration services extended to the applicant. When we are full at a shelter, we advise the applicants to keep out of the wind and rain even if they have to go to the local police station or state hospital.”