THE traffic light turns amber, I slow down my vehicle to a halt. I’ve already assessed all the beggars through my windscreen wipers. My body tightens.
I can imagine the eyes looking pleadingly down at me.
Where am I going to look? Do I have coins in my purse? Am I going to give?
A dishevelled young man taps on my window and gestures, two hands together. I make eye contact, shake my head and look straight ahead. I feel horrible, I feel like an unemotional robot.
Do I give or not? I’m what you’d call a cognitive giver; it depends what headspace I’m in. I don’t throw tenners at every beggar I see but every so often my mood gets the better of me and I fold. Here’s 2 bucks. I feel generous, but my intuition tells me there’s something amiss. Slowly over the weeks this past winter, the traffic light tension got to me and I decided I had to investigate.
And then I saw the poster: “Give Responsibly. SMS ‘GIVE’ to 38088 to donate R10.” At last, someone had come up with an alternative to soothe my moral dilemma, and so my investigation began.
“They are making a fortune,” says Karin Mary Cain, social worker at The Carpenters Shop on Roeland Street. “I don’t know how many R5 coins fit into a Coke tin but if you put R5 coins in there and you count that out, that is how much some of them are making every 2 hours. I know this because at the shelter where I used to work there was a young boy next door who lost his leg and is on crutches. He used to come and show me. He would pour it out at Pick n Pay and ask the staff to give him notes for those R5 coins.”
But don’t feel p***ed off at your local roadside beggar because the truth is, we’re role players too. This is one of the “unintended consequences of our good intentions” as Hassan Khan, CEO of The Haven Night Shelter, puts it.
The Give Responsibly SMS campaign, which started in December, offers a user-friendly solution for your good intentions. When you donate via SMS, R10 is deducted from your airtime. R2 of that is taken by your service provider (Vodacom has waived its fees on the first 40 000 smses) and the other R8 goes into the Give Responsibly fund to be distributed to the six partner NGOs in the city.
The crux is that “people living on the street who are able to make huge amounts of money, aren’t encouraged to actually make use of the services of NGOs who are actually able to assist them” says Pat Eddy, the Social Development Manager at Cape Town City Improvement District, part of the Cape Town Partnership, the organisation behind the Give Responsibly Campaign.
I visited all six of the NGOs supported by the campaign to make sure they’re legit and found out about the free services they offer to those in need.
Here’s a brief breakdown of some of the services they offer.
l Straatwerk, based in Bo- Kaap (you may recognise them by the Jesus Saves bibs), offer four hours of work a day, for R50, to anyone off the street.
l The Homestead in District Six takes in boys under the age of 18.
They provide a bed, three meals a day, a social worker and schooling. They work with the boys to get them reunited with their family or extended family.
l The showers at The Carpenters Shop in Roeland Street are open every day at 10am. Here anyone can come off the street, have a hot shower and wash their clothes. The Carpenters Shop got its name because it provides free, six-week training in carpentry skills and also car valets. Take your car for a wash and vacuum for only R90 and support a good cause.
l Ons Plek, in the East City District takes in young girls in need and offers them a bed, meals, access to a social worker and a bridging school, among other services.
Like The Homestead, they work hard at reuniting individuals with their families or extended families.
l Salesians Institute in Green Point not only runs a daily school for up to 90 children but also offers free skills training in welding, panel beating, carpentry and leatherwork and runs a project called Youth Employment Skills which offers free skills and trade courses.
l The Haven has 15 shelters across the Western Cape and can house over 1 000 people in need. At The Haven, like the other NGOS, social reintegration is the goal of the organisation and the teams there do the best with their skills and resources to keep participants off the street and help them back on to their feet.
Many of these organisations benefit from working together and cross-refer.
Having visited these six shelters, giving money to people on the street is no longer an option. A lot of the project managers and social workers I interviewed kept talking about “being part of the solution” and now I see how we can.
Also, we often think that if we speak to a beggar we have to give something; so we don’t make eye contact. But chatting, shaking hands or joking with a beggar can have a positive effect. It’s important that we take away that feeling of ostracisation and give a feeling of hope.
Now when I come across a young man in the street asking for food, money, a job, I roll down my window, look him in the eyes and tell him “Why don’t you go to Straatwerk in Castle Street? You’ll find work there.” Through my investigation I have finally found a way to put my traffic light tension behind me and respond positively to beggars.
To give responsibly SMS ‘GIVE’ to 38088. For more information on the shelters visit www.giveresponsibly.co.za
l What do you think? Write on our Facebook wall at www.facebook.com/capetimes or use #CTbeggars to @CapeTimesSA on Twitter.