Chief executive of the Haven Night Shelter in Green Point, Hassan Khan, speaks about the shelter’s project for homeless people in the city. Picture: Enrico Jacobs/ANA Pictures
Cape Town - It's been five years since Haven Night Shelter launched its first bed-voucher programme at its 15 Cape Town-based shelters. Over the years, the bed-for-a-ticket system has heralded a number of successes, but also experienced its fair share of hiccups along the way.

Chief executive Hassan Khan said the programme is based on the premise that no one should have to sleep on the street.

He hopes that through innovations such as these, they will be able to provide a better service to Cape Town’s growing homeless population.

“Since the programme started, we get more people coming with vouchers”, Khan said. “The problem is not enough of these people want to get off the streets.”

The programme, which was initiated in 2012, allows concerned Capetonians to buy vouchers from the shelter for R12 a piece - or bundles of five or 10 for R60 or R120 respectively - and give them to the beggars rather than money. Giving money, Khan said, enables a self-destructive lifestyle.

The voucher covers the fee the shelter would normally charge people for a bed to sleep in each night, although the shelter now covers the first 10 nights free.

The idea arose from an intern’s proposal to have a document like a visa or a passport for the homeless that showed, among other things, their case history and which shelters they’d been to in the past.

But Khan realised they needed something further to encourage the homeless to come to the shelter in the first place.

“What we needed was an incentive for them to come, because if you talk to guys they all say there’s all kinds of abuse, or something else keeps him from coming to the shelter.”

He said his shelter on Napier Road in the Cape Town CBD and another in Zonnebloem now see about 20 to 30 people with vouchers each day.

While not all visitors are willing to commit to an extended stay at the shelter or to participate in the social service programmes, Khan said they can still get a meal, a shower and trade in their old clothes for freshly laundered ones. “At least they have a meal in dignity.”

Since the guests can stay for 10 days free, though, the homeless don’t really need a voucher to enter. Khan said the vouchers are purely psychological for the guests. “It doesn’t help him get in shelter, he knows he can get into shelter”, Khan said. “It reminds him the shelter is there”.

But some homeless people who receive the voucher don’t understand its purpose or are intentionally using it maliciously. Khan said he has seen homeless people holding the ticket out, which has the brand of Haven on it, and telling people on the street they need R10 to get into the shelter.

“It’s like standing outside a theatre with a ticket in your hand, saying, ‘Please help me pay me for a ticket.'”

Over the years, US graduate students interning at the shelter have contributed many innovations, including the online registration system started two months ago. It allows the shelter to keep demographic data on its clients, showing where they are from around the world, province, or world and their case history.

It can show if they have relapsed in their drug rehab programme or lost the last ID card the shelter paid for. The shelter will adapt accordingly, for instance, making the person chip in for half the ID card or giving counselling on how to maintain the card. If someone absconded the last time the shelter gave them a train ticket to find jobs, Khan said, this time they’d make them check in each day about their job search.

The team, a group of students from the University of Michigan, are building a map of databases of all the social services across Cape Town.

At the moment, they have only mapped each shelter on an interactive map which shows information and phone numbers for the shelter when you hover your mouse over it. But they hope to build a database that allows for any shelter across the city to show what social services it offers.

Weekend Argus