Sawas ‘not an old age home’ – Communicare

Social housing agency Communicare has found itself at the centre of a public outcry over a lack of basic necessities and kitchen facilities at a Pinelands boarding housing for the elderly.

Earlier this month, Pinelands resident Lisa Dinkelmann complained on Facebook about Sawas House residents not being supplied with any food, tea, coffee, toiletries or toilet paper. Ms Dinkelmann said she had discovered this after visiting the block with a donation of fruit and vegetable juice.

This led to a food drive by Ms Dinklemann and food and supplies poured in from the surrounding community.

Sawas House was established in 1957 as a home for women who had served in South African Women’s Auxiliary Services (SAWAS), a group of voluntary workers, during World War II. Communicare bought the building in 2007.

Sawas Housing resident Maria Littleton said residents found it hard to get by because they don’t have kitchens in their rooms and the door to the communal kitchen is locked.

They also have to use communal bathrooms and toilets. Communicare had once provided them with toilet rolls and bath mats, but no more, she said.

“How are we supposed to be independent in a cubicle?” she said.

“I am thrilled with what the community is doing for us. They’re feeding us and we’re very grateful for it. I haven’t had to go to Pick * Pay for two weeks, and I was able to buy a pair of fluffy shoes.”

Communicare spokeswoman Michelle Matthee said Sawas House was not a retirement home and simply offered rental accommodation to elderly people who were able to live independently.

Some residents had a key to the kitchen and bigger rooms had kitchens in the units, she said.

Also, a Communicare maintenance officer was on site at least once a day and could help with access to the kitchen as required.

“There is a misconception that Sawas is an old age home. We are a landlord and are not obliged to provide additional options as one would have in a registered old age home, something our tenants were aware of when they signed their leases,” said Ms Matthee.

“Tenants can choose to have a microwave and kettle in their room. The main kitchen has an industrial stove which poses a health and safety risk to those not properly trained to use it. We have disconnected the stove to minimise risk when tenants wish to use the kitchen, which they are free to do.

“In previous years, a carer was stationed at Sawas and meals were provided by an external service provider at an additional cost. Further to consultation with the tenants, these services were terminated as the tenants felt they no longer had a need for them and did not want to pay the additional costs involved,” said Ms Matthee.

However Ms Littlemann said there were several residents who needed a nurse, including one who was schizophrenic and the burden was now on residents to help that individual.

Ms Matthee said the residents hadn’t approached Communicare about that.

“We have a R60 000 monthly income from the property, and we cover the water and lights. We operate at a loss on the property. None of the tenants are SASSA-only pensioners. Some residents do better than others and others struggle to make ends meet, but no one is starving or malnourished or in a position where they’re bedridden and need additional care,” she said.

Mayoral Committee member for area north, mini mayor Suzette Little, said the property’s title deed made no reference to Communicare providing meals for residents and city health had not had any complaints about the building or residents being unable to prepare their food.

According to an environmental health by-law, accommodation establishments with 10 or more residents have to have a properly equipped kitchen. If anyone would to find out more about the donation drive for the house, contact Lisa Dinkelmann at 081 343 0695 or Lisa.dinkelmann@gmail.com. Individuals can also go to www.takethemameal.org, use the login “Pinelands” and the password “suppertime” to choose a day to deliver a meal to the 21 residents.