Second chance

Project manager, Zoliswa Mbana, left, with Evelyn Gomba.

A project on Long Street which aims to uplift the CBD’s homeless community has inspired the establishment of a similar initiative in the east city precinct.

The “East City Project”, sponsored by Janette de Villiers from The Electric in Canterbury Street, is aimed at cleaning up the derelict parking area adjacent to the Streetscapes garden near Fruit and Veg City.

The east city is bordered by Adderley, Cantebury, Roeland and Darling streets, according to the CCID map.

Streetscapes, run by Khulisa Social Solutions, offers street people a second chance by creating work opportunities so they can rebuild their lives.

Ms De Villiers will fund the project for six months and is mobilising other east city business owners to do the same. “Having spent two years in the area, and getting to know the dynamics between businesses and the homeless, most of whom have spent their entire lives here, I felt compelled to find a sustainable and conscious solutions to the problems of our neighbourhood.”

She said individuals and business owners had an “obligation to empower and uplift the community”.

Project manager at Streetscapes, Zoliswa Mbana said businesses in the area started complaining of the overcrowding at the parking lot due to people sleeping there, as well as dirt and debris.

She said they also complained about broken paving due to cars parking all over the place. “The people who lived here were using the space against the fence as a toilet and they made fires in the grass. It wasn’t good for our business, as customers who buy vegetables from the garden complained about the dirt. They said they want to support us but it is unhygienic.”

She said they met with Ms De Villiers to make a plan to tend to the parking area, and she decided to support the project, however, they needed someone to work in the parking area.

They recruited Evelyn Gomba who had previously worked for Streetscapes.

“She had been parking cars in the area. We asked her to come to work and formalised her contract.”

She said so far, Ms Gomba has been keeping the parking lot tidy, and removing rubble to create a pathway against the fence for people to walk through.

“We beautified the area next to the fence, and put pebbles there to demarcate the pathway, which will soon be formalised after we are able to pick up all the rubble.”

Ms Gomba, originally from Athlone, has lived on the street for more than 30 years.

She said she parked cars in Constitution Street until Streetscapes offered her a job. “I’m very grateful to be able to come to work. It gives me a sense of pride. I am okay here – I do what is required of me and I’m quite happy.”

Ms Gomba’s duties include picking up papers and clearing rubble with a wheelbarrow.

Ms Mbana said since Ms Gomba started work last week, she has been consistent. “She’s a good worker and does whatever is required of her. She comes to work early everyday – it shows that she wants to work.”

Ms Gomba’s aim is to get her house back in Delft, which she says she was conned out of.

Jesse Laitinen, manager of Strategic Partnerships at Khulisa Social Solutions, said street people were often marginalised and seen as a “problem”.

However, providing them with work opportunities allowed them to be accountable and better able to take charge of their lives.

The initiative in the east city was inspired by the “Make Long Street Better” project by Long Street Associates in conjunction with the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) and the Streetscapes programme.

The rehabilitation programme is aimed at providing known homeless people in Long Street with work and the means to earn a living.

Since the project’s launch in April, several Long Street businesses have come on board to support the project financially, with over R100 000 being raised.

The project started last year with the Long Street bin project, which saw the homeless managing the collection and emptying of bins, and then returning it to business owners (“Project to keep CBD grime free”, CapeTowner, February 8, 2018).

Now, at least five “Make Long Street Better” participants, who include the chronic homeless and repeat offenders, provide cleaning services identified jointly with retailers and restaurant-owners on Long Street and the CCID Urban Management team.

They are supervised by social workers. They start at one end of Long Street, and work between the pool and Strand Street. They work in shifts which include one-on-one sessions with coaches and social workers. Long Street businessman Ed Saunders, who has been involved in the Long Street project from its inception, says businesses had noticed “a big difference” since the inception of the project.

“The biggest challenge is getting the homeless to commit on a regular basis, but the project is definitely making a difference to their lives. This in turn is helping Long Street become a destination for visitors to enjoy.”

Mr Saunders said it was important to find adequate funding to make a project of this nature sustainable.

“I had a meeting with another possible 20 partners yesterday who I am sure will come on board this month.” He believes people should be proactive and “make a difference instead of moaning to the City of Cape Town or the authorities all the time”.

CCID social development manager, Pat Eddy said they were heartened by how this project was progressing and it goes to show that there needs to be a more co-ordinated approach when dealing with social issues.

Ms Eddy said there had been a shift in how the homeless are perceived in the area since the launch of “Make Long Street Better”.

“People in the area are now seeing the participants on the project as human beings, they’re starting to relate to them on a personal level and are trying to understand their stories.”

“Make Long Street Better” participants are also given additional training so they’re able to provide a more professional service.

The CCID’s social development department teamed up with J&M Cleaning Services to train participants in window cleaning after businesses in the area indicated a need for the service.

While the “East City Project” has been in operation for less than a month, there is already an improvement. “Already, I have seen such a massive difference in our participants, not to mention the tidiness of the parking lot. I can only imagine this project going from strength to strength,” said Ms De Villiers.

Business owners in both Long Street and the East City can help by contributing R500 a month, directly to Streetscapes every month. The money will go towards uplifting vulnerable individuals.

For more information, email Jesse Laitinen at jesse@khulisa.org.za