Giving the homeless ‘a sense of dignity’


It is shortly after 7am and there are already more than 10 people queuing to use the Carpenter’s Shop’s ablution facilities. Chatting casually – while holding in their hands overused razors and toothbrushes or plastic bags containing dirty clothes to be washed – the men and women in the steadily growing queue wait patiently to be let in to do their daily ablutions.

The Roeland Street-based organisation, which provides social work services, rehabilitation, healthcare and opportunities for education and employment to unskilled, unemployed and homeless people, has recently upgraded and refurbished its ablution facilities. The refurbishment was needed, according to its social worker, Karen Cain, due to an increase in the number of people accessing the NGO’s services.

“Last year,” says Ms Cain, “we saw a daily average of between 35 and 40 people using the ablution facilities. This year it has increased to around 60 to 65 people daily.”

Ms Cain attributes this increase largely to the clinic the organisation now hosts every Wednesday. The clinic offers services such as testing for high blood pressure, TB, HIV and diabetes.

While this may be true, the opportunity to make use of a free service that offers not only a warm shower, but also provides toiletries, clothing and counselling, must certainly come as a welcome one for the homeless across the CBD and surrounds. The upgrades to the ablution facilities, which included added taps, troughs, mirrors, tiles and a separate changing area for women, has doubtless added to the service’s appeal.

Felix Ndaba, who has for the past two years made the daily, early morning trek from the park where he sleeps, to the Carpenter’s Shop to use this service, says: “Before, it was difficult to wash, because I would have to go to other places where I have to pay. For someone like me, that’s not affordable. So, it’s nice here for me.”

Echoing this, Zane Adams, another regular user of the ablution facilities, says: “It really helps me a lot, coming here. It makes me feel clean; like I can carry on for the rest of the day – even though I don’t have anything.”

Commenting on the refurbished facilities, Mark van Zyl, who has been living on the streets for the past 45 years (“al baie lank, jong,” he laughs), says: “Daar’s nou warme water. En daai’s baie belangrik (Now there’s warm water, and that’s important.)” (

With the Mother City’s often merciless winter months approaching, the addition of warm water is undoubtedly a welcome addition for the many who make use of these facilities.

Offering respite from the cold – albeit on a more metaphoric level – is, for the man who chose to be identified simply as Edgar, the most important role these facilities play in the lives of the CBD’s homeless community.

“You know,” says Edgar, “people treat you the way you look.

“So, for us, being able to come here, clean ourselves and actually look presentable gives us some sense of dignity.”