Jenny Solomon takes refuge from the rain in one of the shelters in the city. Picture: Supplied
Cape Town - Winter has landed in Cape Town, and the cold, wet nights are particularly difficult for homeless people.

Hassan Khan, chief executive of Haven Night Shelter, said the shelters buckled down each year to prepare for the influx of people seeking places to stay. During the cold season, the Haven Shelter brought in extra mattresses to ensure that people had a place to sleep.

Khan said not every bed was occupied in their shelters around the city. The facilities in the CBD saw most of the traffic, while other shelters were not as overwhelmed. Khan said when when people sought help, the shelter made it a priority to house them.

Even during the busiest nights, they strove to make sure no one was left on the street. On one night, Khan said, 180 people sought shelter in a facility with only 90 beds. To cope with the influx, Haven provided the clients with transport to other facilities.

Khan even sees a silver lining in the cold weather, saying it drives more people to shelters and organisations that will ultimately get them into a better situation. Between April 1 and June 30 this year, Haven assisted 249 people to reunite with their families and get off the streets.

According to the provincial government, about 4862 people are experiencing homelessness in the greater Cape Town area, a number that outweighs the number of available beds across the city. The city is trying to figure out the best ways to help people experiencing homelessness.

Just over a year ago, the city opened the Culemborg Safe Space, an open-air facility underneath the Culemborg bridge that provides beds and security for more than 200 people. Residents of the space have lockers to keep their valuables and a bed to call their own.

Jenny Solomon has been at the Culemborg space for about a month now. Her bed is set up in a row of orderly mattresses that are situated under a corrugated iron overhang.

“It is a safe space. I don’t have to worry that someone is going to try and rob me.”

Still, the area can’t protect the residents from the cold temperatures in winter, and the strong winds often blow rain on to the beds. But Solomon remains optimistic; she prefers the safe space to shelters because it’s free for those accepted and allows couples to stay together. Solomon sleeps in the single women’s section of the space but hopes to move to the couple’s section when her partner is able to come to the facility.

The city sends social workers and counsellors to help the residents find jobs or work through difficult situations. When residents stay at the facility, they have to leave during each day to make money. The shelter does not ask the residents to pay, so they are able to save up for future opportunities.

@m_wench

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Cape Argus