Temporary haven for the homeless

Miles Joseph with their plant boxes.

While churches are still closed under Level 4 as part of the national lockdown restrictions, the St Peter’s Church has become a haven for the homeless.

For the past month, the church in Mowbray has been running a “microsite” on its premises for 10 homeless people as a response to the national lockdown. President Cyril Ramaphosa, however, announced on Tuesday evening that churches and other places of worship would be allowed to open when the country moves to Level 3 on Monday June 1.

Richard Bollard from the New Hope SA organisation said they had been holding weekly Thursday evening dinners together with the church for about eight years but with the lockdown it meant they wouldn’t be able to hold this, and more importantly, there would be several people who would need assistance.

The organisation put together a proposal for the microsite which was approved by the church council and the site was launched on Friday April 24. “There were several people in our community who were still living on the street during lockdown, and many more based at the Strandfontein camp. Resources such as food, money, shelter and sanitary needs were even more scarce as a result of the lockdown so we felt action was needed,” said Mr Bollard.

Mr Bollard said they had taken people who regularly attended their weekly dinners. “Myself and our social worker, Vivien Hobbs, went searching for people we knew from our Thursday dinners. When we came across someone we knew, we invited them to join us on the microsite. About half of the residents that came on site were still living on the streets of Mowbray and Observatory while the other half, who were originally from the same area, were living at the Strandfontein camp,” he said.

The site provides 10 people with safe, physically-distanced bedroom cubicles; linen, mattresses, pillows and blankets; washing facilities, toiletries and sanitary provision; three meals a day and snacks; weekly private doctor consultations, medication and transport to clinic; weekly social work consultations and personal growth work; addiction recovery support and various workshops, including wood work, computer literacy and cooking.

Mr Bollard said it cost about
R20 000 per month to run the site, which had been funded by New Hope with support by members of the public. “All the funds raised have been contributed from the public sector, including community action networks (CANs). St Peter’s is providing the building for free and we have received large amounts of food from various service providers. Three doctors have offered their services for free as well as many volunteers who help run the microsite.”

The purpose behind the microsite was two-fold: to provide a temporary safe space for people during the lockdown period which allowed for someone to self-isolate away from the streets and secondly, to provide an opportunity for someone to take the next step in life away from the streets.

Charlton Alexander from
St Peter’s Church said while at the start it was a challenge for the group to adapt to being in a confined space and the lockdown regulations, he was proud to see how much they had grown and their ability to follow their schedules.

Mr Alexander said while they understood the challenges for the group, they also wanted to instil a sense of routine and structure. “We have our daily activities and scheduled times for certain things such as the morning walks between 8am and 9am, breakfast, lunch and supper and our daily check-ins but there is also free time and times when they can choose which activities they want to take part in,” he said.

He added they did not want the schedules to become rigid and would mix it up if the group felt the need. “These are people who have been living on the street and are use to that freedom, we want to keep them stimulated and occupied but also be mindful of their background,” he said.

Miles Joseph, 41, had been sleeping on the streets of Observatory for five months before the lockdown kicked in. He said he had used his time at the microsite to reflect and try and get his life back on track. “I am thankful to the church and New Hope SA for taking me in. This has been the best thing to happen to me and when I leave here, I will have a different mindset and be a better person,” he said.

Speaking on the way forward, Mr Bollard said they were confident they could provide a temporary relief facility for 10 street-based people for the duration of the lockdown. “Our medium-term plan is to provide an opportunity for each resident to join a programme at one of our partner organisations which we will fund. Our long-term plan is to continue the microsite at a different location which will enable us to continue the work we’re doing with the current residents.”

For more information or to to assist the organisation, visit www.newhopesa.org