Safe haven for homeless people

The Youth Solutions Africa headquarters, which is based on the corner of Russel and Chapel streets in Zonnebloem, sees to several homeless people

Nestled under the Nelson Mandela Boulevard in Zonnebloem is a non-profit organisation which has opened its doors to offer a home to the many homeless people currently sleeping on the streets.

Youth Solutions Africa, a registered non-profit and public benefit organisation, was established in 2006 by Pastor John Philmon, the organisation’s director.

It started, however as a modest feeding project for children, but he soon realised there was a greater need than just another feeding project in Cape Town.

“After working on the streets and in the Company’s Garden, we found a space which enabled us to start doing development programmes with the homeless,” said Mr Philmon.

The programmes focused on health and anti-social behavioural issues – but while they were working with the homeless, the need for a temporary shelter was highlighted and the organisation applied to the City of Cape Town to open a shelter.

Weekly, the organisation saw to around 150 homeless people, who visited the project in search of help.

“Our main purpose is to help reduce the number of homeless people by providing sustainable development programmes, skills training for men and women, family reunification, job readiness and much more. We are also providing drug counselling and connect addicts with drug rehabilitation centres,” Mr Philmon said.

Today, the shelter, which is located on the corner of Russell and Chapel streets, acts as a home to nearly 70 homeless men and women, 18 years and older.

After networking with the Department of Social Development, Youth Solutions SA was able to provide skills training to more than 200 youth last year. They have also successfully placed 48 previously homeless people in jobs with the City’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) and other companies, and are also working closely with the Central City Improvement District which supports the project with donations.

“By working with other structures and organisations, we are making a difference in the lives of many people living on the streets. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, the numbers of homeless and street people are increasing and then there’s the criminal elements among them as well,” Mr Philmon said.

Forty-two-year-old Joseph “Joe” Mukendi has been living on Cape Town’s streets for nearly all his life, having lost his parents and two sons to the streets as well.

In 1997, his mother passed away after illness. The following year, his father went missing and was never found, and in 2001, both his sons were arrested for murder and robbery, with both having been given lengthy sentences.

Mr Mukendi also suffered the loss of his friend four years ago. He had also been living on the street and died of pneumonia, while they were sleeping under the N1 bridge.

“We took him to the day hospital. They said he had pneumonia and he had to be booked into the hospital, but Adam was very stubborn and he did not want to stay in a hospital.

“That night, it was extremely cold. We kept each other warm and when I woke up the next morning, I thought he was sleeping and I left him. I came back and still found him sleeping, but later on, I noticed he did not move and that’s when I saw that he had died,” Mr Mukendi said.

Of his involvement with Youth Solutions SA, he said: “The organisation has made me see that I have potential to do much better than just sit around and drink all day. I have been alone for most of my life and after visiting the project, I could speak to other people also going through what I am going through now,” Mr Mukendi said.

“I still drink, (I’m) not going to lie, but the old Joe would drink all day and all night. I want to change my life and this shelter is a good start.”

During the day and after hours, the organisation employs a social worker to support and assist people living at the shelter.

At the same time, they also have youth development programmes and a soup kitchen, which runs five days a week in the Salt River area.

“We are rendering a much needed service to the city in light of the ever- increasing numbers of homeless and street people.

“Our success stories range from reuniting people with their families, to homeless people finding jobs, or moving on to independent living off the streets. Most of the people working and volunteering in the organisation are people who used to live on the streets for many years and are now giving back,” Mr Philmon said.

He called on the community to continue making donations of food and non-perishable items to their organisation, and volunteering their time and expertise to their programmes. “Our shelter is not yet funded by the Department of Social Development and is totally dependent on financial donations.”

Call 021 462 8006 or 082 803 5820 for more details about Youth Solutions Africa.