Safe Space for homeless

The homeless can now seek refuge from winter’s bite at a new night shelter in Bellville.

Mould Empower Serve (MES) and the Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District (VRCID) have spent several months turning the old scout hall in AJ West Street into a shelter, dubbed the Safe Space, for people living on the streets (“Project for Bellville’s homeless,” Northern News July 28 2016).

It can accommodate 50 to 70 people during the day and 20 to 40 at night, the latter paying R8 to sleep on the premises — the men outside under carport-like structures and the women in shipping containers — on a first-come-first-served basis.

There are about 700 homeless people in the northern suburbs but, until now, there have only been two shelters.

The Safe Space was meant to open in March, but MES had to apply for a permit to set up three shipping containers on the site.

Former Stellenbosch mayor Conrad Sidego spoke at the shelter’s opening on Friday June 9.

Lilly Franks, MES Cape Town branch manager, said many of the homeless using the shelter had grabbed their first peaceful night’s sleep in a long time .

“Sleeping on the streets is not for sissies – there is no sleep when you are on the streets. When you hear something you are up, scared someone is going to attack you or take your stuff,” she said.

Mr Sidego said homelessness could happen to anyone and that on a visit to Bellville he had encountered a doctor and lawyer living on the streets.

“Life can throw things at you that you, even as a professional, can up end up living on the streets of Bellville or anywhere in South Africa,” he said.

Mr Sidego said the shelter was an “oasis” where people could recover and rebuild their lives.

“You are in the business of restoring dignity; this is the gist — what it’s all about,” he said.

Neil Villet, 44, has been on the streets for four years. He stayed in Bellville South with his parents but moved out after they died as he wasn’t getting along with his family. He has been sleeping at the Safe Space since it opened and said it had made a big difference in his life.

“We have a safe space to sleep at night, we can take a shower and get to work with the auxiliary workers,” he said.

Magdelene Muller, 54, has been on the streets for the past year. She used to sleep at the Town Centre, in Mitchell’s Plain, but would get chased away often. She came to Bellville after hearing about the Safe Space.

“For the first time in a long time, I feel safe at night,” she said.

MES is also part of the City of Cape Town’s winter readiness programme, which gives extra aid and mattress space to the homeless during winter.

Expanded Public Works Programme workers will help the shelter with cooking and cleaning, among other things.

Ms Franks said hidden expenses — including an ailing sewerage infrastructure and permits for the containers — had nearly doubled the cost of the project, which had amounted to just over R940 000. MES had raised R835 000 of that through sponsorship and donations, leaving them with a shortfall of just over R100 000, which they hope to raise soon.