Helping homeless get back their lives

Your well-intended cash handout to a homeless person does not address the underlying social problems that cause begging, says the writer. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Your well-intended cash handout to a homeless person does not address the underlying social problems that cause begging, says the writer. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 10, 2023


Malixole Sikhungo

Cape Town - Your well-intended cash handout to a homeless person does not address the underlying social problems that cause begging.

A cash handout in response to street solicitation is probably one of the main contributing factors to begging and homelessness.

The most effective way to address street begging and homelessness is to adopt a non-cash community-wide response, typically by means of a universal and co-ordinated voucher system.

The Mi-change voucher initiative is an ideal point of departure in this regard.

The first of its kind in South Africa, the Mi-change voucher initiative is powered by U-turn Homeless Ministries in partnership with Mould Empower Serve (MES).

These vouchers can be redeemed across the entire city and at the U-turn Johannesburg branch launching early this year. No other voucher gives equivalent access for the homeless to a variety of services like the Mi-change voucher, starting with basic relief for needs such as food, clothing and ablution facilities, etc.

At Phase1: Change Readiness, a client undergoes a co-ordinated intake process which includes detailed identification and assessment of each of their personal circumstances to provide relevant therapeutic interventions specifically designed to increase the motivation for change.

Following precise identification and assessment of each client’s personal circumstances, they would generally proceed to the next stage (Phase 2: Rehabilitation stage). The type of services provided at that stage may vary depending on each client’s needs, but often include a systemised outpatient rehabilitation programme, professional therapeutic services and skills training.

Once a client satisfies rehabilitation requirements, they are placed at any one of U-turn’s many social enterprises – namely 12 retail shops, construction enterprise, nursery, logistics and communications, laundry facilities and various external internship opportunities.

As part of the work-readiness programme, participants receive monthly stipends, ongoing therapy and are placed at one of U-turn’s (or external) transitional houses with subsidised food.

At that stage, participants start searching for jobs in the open labour market and gradually step into their independent and sober-living environments.

The kindest way you can assist a person is to connect them with reputable organisations through a Mi-change voucher, which is redeemable for a service from any of U-turn’s service centres or partnering organisations across Cape Town and Johannesburg from early this year.

In line with U-turn’s main objective – prevention of recurrent homelessness, a partnering organisation like U-turn must provide a tracked, effective rehabilitation and skills development programme for a pathway out of homelessness.

Conversely, in the absence of your concerted involvement by purchasing and passing on Mi-change vouchers to the homeless street solicitation and homelessness is likely to remain visible on every street corner for many years to come.

According to the Cost of Homelessness: Cape Town study, Cape Town residents handed over more than R286 million to homeless during the 2018/19 period.

The study further reveals that more than 50% of the homeless population in the Cape Town Metropolitan area experiences “chronic homelessness” and more than 70% experience progressive substance addiction and/or alcohol-related habits.

With those figures in mind, it is highly likely that a significant portion of begging proceeds has sadly been channelled towards feeding addiction related activities. The street begging and substance addiction issues are inextricably linked to cash-handouts to the homeless.

The reality is that housed residents and the homeless both wish for the same thing, although from different angles – namely a community free of homelessness, but that desire remains nothing but hope against hope unless there is a shift in the manner in which residents respond to homelessness.

U-turn has equipped hundreds of the homeless out of their homelessness for good over the past 25 years.

More than 80% of U-turn graduates remain employed, independent and sober. With residents’ concerted involvement by means of the voucher system, these figures would increase exponentially and homelessness would be significantly reduced.

A Mi-change voucher is the perfect method through which that connection may be kick-started.

Sikhungo is a spokesperson for U-turn.

Cape Times

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.

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