The other 72 were still being housed at the Community Chest building, where all 168 were invited to stay by then chief executive Mr Lorenzo Davids. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
The other 72 were still being housed at the Community Chest building, where all 168 were invited to stay by then chief executive Mr Lorenzo Davids. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Looking back: 'Our House’ is again back to square one - Part 3

By Carlos Mesquita Time of article published Apr 22, 2021

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A year ago the news carried mayor Dan Plato’s announcement that the controversial camp for the homeless was being “scaled down and phased out, as was the plan. Our exit plans are well in place”.

When a group of individuals were asked to choose their preferred destination after the closure of the Strandfontein camp, a group of 168 chose option 2: Culemburg Safe Space 2.

It eventually took a court case and two months of negotiation to see 96 of those 168 individuals moved into the place they had been promised, and which a court ordered be provided.

The other 72 were still being housed at the Community Chest building, where all 168 were invited to stay by then chief executive Mr Lorenzo Davids.

Due to Community Chest’s act of compassion, the City accepted no responsibility for those 72.

Community Chest extended their generosity when they accommodated 41 people at Youth Solutions (they funded their stay until December 2020) and 31 were housed in a Gardens former backpacker which I later called “Our House”.

Our House became the realisation of a concept I had discussed with Mr Davids whereby the homeless would easily be convinced to leave the streets and eventually easily re-integrate into society if given agency and a space that they could manage themselves and where their basic needs would initially be met, and thereafter gradually reduced until they could truly live independently.

It would also require access to upskilling and employment opportunities as well as to social services and drug rehabilitation programmes. Community Chest decided to fund this concept as a research project for a period of six months.

The time limit was only revealed to me two months into the programme.

By the time the project ended in December, 70% of the individuals were employed and able to stay in the house, covering the costs of their meals and paying a nominal rent.

There was confusion about whether Community Chest would adopt the programme on a long-term basis or not.

On December 17, in an email, Community Chest confirmed my worst fears and we went into overdrive to register an NPC – with the assistance of the house’s owner – to prevent us landing back on the streets on December 31.

On January 4, we secured a rental funding agreement from Community Chest on a month-to-month basis. The property was going on auction and we started looking for a more affordable and sustainable venue from which to run not only “Our House”, but also offer services like “the homeless hub” we envisaged for the homeless.

Now we are facing an even worse predicament at the end of this month than we did a year ago, on April 20 in Strandfontein, when we were notified of the camp’s closure.

Despite all of Our House’s successes and our personal journeys that have been of great value for our benefactor – Our House now boasts its second set of residents, with an 83% employment rate and none having returned to the streets – residents face eviction. Community Chest had given notice to the building’s owner.

The last we had heard from Community Chest about the house was a letter from Mr Davids on January 25, confirming the agreement reached between the organisation and the landlord. We had been sending emails regarding the situation with the house since March 2.

We contacted the organisation last Tuesday, and were promised a call back that afternoon.

Nothing.

I question the sincerity of the commitment made by an organisation that was quick to criticise the City and province from the sidelines.

Does their criticism stem from genuine concern for those who are vulnerable?

This project and the individuals involved contributed greatly to the donations barometer of the organisation, as well as its consumer rating throughout last year, and the overpriced site was chosen by the donor, so the manner in which they chose to end their funding seems to provide the answer to the question.

[Read the response by Community Chest to this column HERE]

* Carlos Mesquita and a handful of others formed HAC (the Homeless Action Committee) that lobbies for the rights of the homeless. He also manages Our House in Oranjezicht, which is powered by the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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