SAFE CARE: The Cape Town Central City Improvement District has given lockers for the homeless to keep their papers at the HIV/TB centre. Picture: Cindy Waxa
Cape Town - When you have barely any possessions and no roof over your head, who can you call on for help when you run into trouble?

For the homeless people of Cape Town, they can - and often do - make use of the TB/HIV Care Association. This offers a range of services including health care, advocacy, and psycho-social support.

One of its fixed sites in Cape Town’s CBD is open between 9am and 4pm, Monday to Friday, and the city’s homeless and vulnerable population is free to pop in, hang out away from the cold, and have a cup of hot noodles, soup and coffee while waiting to access the social and health-care services offered by its trained professionals.

There’s someone there who does haircuts twice a week too.

The site assists 2 000 people a month. A further 45 000 people have accessed TB/HIV Care Association’s services via the 10 off-site outreach programmes that are aimed at key populations over the past six years.

It provides treatment and counselling, but the focus, as key populations programme manager Laurene Booyens explains, is on teaching vulnerable groups how to stay healthy.

While the psycho-social aspects of counselling are vitally important, so too is being knowledgeable about one’s rights, she said.

“You have to know your rights. You need to know what counts as a legitimate arrest, and what counts as a wrongful arrest. For example, should law enforcement find clean needles on you, but no illicit substances, they can’t arrest you. If they do, it’s a wrongful arrest.”

Often, it’s the staff of the TB/HIV Care Association who vulnerable people call on first when they run into trouble.

“They use their one phone call - which again, is their right - to call us. They know our office hours, but they also know our contact details outside office hours. So if they run into trouble, they call us, and from there we engage our network of partners. If we need to contact Legal Aid for them, we do so. If we need to get their medication to them, we do so. If they’re being held in interim areas, it’s difficult for them to access proper health services. We’re often the first port of call.”

Booyens said the organisation worked together with its network of NGO and NPO partners to ensure that all vulnerable people were cared for. “You can’t do this alone,” she said. Changing the perceptions and attitudes of the residents of Cape Town towards the homeless and other vulnerable groups was not an easy task: “This can’t happen overnight,” she said.

The organisation continues to engage with law enforcement and those in the private and public sector to ensure vulnerable groups receive the attention and treatment they are entitled to.

“It’s about empowering communities... we want less avoidance, more engagement. And we want to invest in the youth, because these are our future policymakers.”

The fixed centre also houses long-term and temporary lockers where the homeless and other vulnerable groups can store their personal effects and vital documents such as ID cards for safekeeping. These have been donated in conjunction with private-public partnerships.

“Dignity in Action seeks to highlight the good work that many individuals, NGOs, associations and those in leadership positions are doing to assist the homeless and vulnerable population of Cape Town.”

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Cape Argus