Streetscapes garden project grows

Christiana Solomons embraces Jesse Laitinen to thank her for helping her off the streets.

It was a celebration at the Streetscapes garden in Roeland Street on Friday July 26, as the team shared their new office space, success stories and the progress they made during the year.

The Streetscapes programme, a project by CBD-based NGO Khulisa Solutions, helps homeless people integrate into society.

The Roeland Street garden was the first of three inner city gardens used as a tool to create jobs to give homeless people dignity.

The other two gardens are in Vredehoek and on the property of Trafalgar High School.

Strategic partnerships manager at Khulisa Solutions, Jesse Laitinen, said working towards getting an office took the team five years.

The space was created from a container donated to the project, and was painted, cleaned out, and decorated with pictures of the progress made at the gardens and the newest project, the Kuils River farm.

The farm is the latest addition to the programme and has a safehouse, as well as a workshop, for homeless people to work and live safely.

Ms Laitinen said the office will act as the first step for homeless people to join the project, and thereafter, they will be integrated and form part of the working team at either of the gardens, and hopefully, end up at the farm. She said plans to build more housing at the Kuils River farm were in its early stages.

Ms Laitinen said a year ago, 28 homeless people had joined the programme. Of the 28, 60 percent are still part of the programme, 30 percent were promoted to assistant supervisors or found work elsewhere, two people returned home, one had died, and eight percent dropped out.

At the farm in Kuils River, 10 people had moved in, one is between the streets and the safehouse, and one had gone to Valkenberg hospital.

She said this year, the number of people wanting to enter the programme had tripled in size, with 68 people starting the programme this month. “While we have had a few hiccups, the numbers are encouraging and shows that people want to change their lives.”

She said the Streetscape team had also built partnerships with businesses in the city, and they have now established four cleaning projects, where homeless people help clean Greenmarket Square, manage waste removal in Long Street, and work with the Central City Improvement District (CCID), cleaning the streets of the city (“Project to keep CBD grime free”, CapeTowner, February 8, 2018).

Three of the Streetscape beneficiaries also shared their stories of success.

Christiana Solomons has been working at the Streetscape Garden in Roeland Street for four years.

She said she had been a drug addict, but was sober for eight months, thanks to the programme.

“I was on the streets for six years. I didn’t want to go home and I didn’t get to know my children because I couldn’t face my family. I was introduced to Streetscapes and Jesse gave me a new lease on life.”

She now lives at the Kuils River farm and is in contact with her children. “I am the seedling maker at the farm, and people say I’m the best there is,” she said proudly.

Nazeema Jacobs was also on the streets for five years due to drugs and circumstances, until she was introduced to the programme three years ago.

“Streetscape gave me the dignity I needed to go back home. I am back with my children, and I am now an assistant supervisor and an all-rounder.

“Because of this programme, I am who I am today.”

Aubrey Engelbrecht lived as a criminal from the age of seven and joined a gang as a young adult.

He said while he came from a decent home, he chose to sleep outside, and eventually ended up in prison. “When I came out in 2016, I couldn’t go back home, so I went to sleep on he streets of Bellville.”

He then moved to the streets of the city, and a friend introduced him to the programme. He started out at the Vredehoek garden, and built labyrinths.

He proudly showed pictures of his work.

Ms Engelbrecht was one of the first occupants at the Kuils River farm, where he is an assistant supervisor. He now has his own home, and will be getting married next month.

“Streetscape gave me the opportunity to change and I grasped it with both hands. I am so proud of the work they do. They made me who I am today.”

Ward councillor Brandon Golding admired the “brilliant work” of Streetscape. “I was at the Trafalgar garden launch back in 2016, and it was a great initiative not only for the homeless people, but for the children at the school – teaching children about growing produce and about the less fortunate.”

He said the City had also unlocked the land for the Vredehoek garden, and people can now buy fresh fruit and vegetables from any of the sites. “We applaud the work of Streetscape. They are doing what the City strives to do – integrating communities. We will continue to work with them and help them partner with other NGOs doing similar work.”