Homeless youth must see themselves as young lions

Cathy Achille

Cathy Achille

Published Oct 26, 2023


Cathy Achille

A fire was ignited in our youth on 16 June, 1976, catapulting them into the fight for national liberation across the country, free of oppression and the injustice of apartheid.

Amid national arrests and the murder of fellow students, they did not give up. They pressed on through raids, barbed wire, Casspirs and smoke grenades.

In his 1985 speech, Oliver Tambo honoured them: “Despite the campaign of murder and terror unleashed by the racist against them, including the very young, they have stood firm in their demands. They have refused to break from the ranks of the struggling masses. In saluting our students and working youth, we can truly say that they have earned for themselves the honour of being called the Young Lions.”

In South Africa, those aged from 15 to 35 are classified as youth comprising an estimated 20.6 million people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, including secondary and tertiary students, entry to mid-level employees, executives, entrepreneurs, and the unemployed.

According to Stats SA, unemployment among the youth in the first quarter of 2023 was 4.9 million, which works out to 46.5%. Without family support, depleted funds could lead to homelessness. In seeking employment in cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town, the youth often leave their small towns or villages, only for their dreams to be crushed when they don’t find a job and could end up on the streets.

Caught in the web of homelessness, they might feel there is no way out. Succumbing to their circumstances can make them susceptible to drug abuse. According to the ‘Cost of Homelessness Report’ by U-turn Homeless Ministries, Khulisa Social Solutions and MES, about 71% of the street homeless population in Cape Town has been on the streets for more than a year, with the average duration of the homeless experience being 8.6 years.

To break the cycle of homelessness, the youth must recognise themselves as young lions, not social rodents. They add value to the kaleidoscope of humanity. And, just as lions need a pride, they need community support to escape from the threat of homelessness.

One of the organisations that can help them to break the cycle of living rough on the streets is U-turn Homeless Ministries. With three support centres in Cape Town, U-turn creates pathways out of homelessness through a four-phased programme, catering for diverse age groups older than 18. People sleeping rough on the streets are able to enjoy a hot meal and have access to warm clothing and a therapeutic team. When they decide to change their lives, and their ongoing drug tests are negative, they move to the Rehabilitation Phase, where their shelter fees are covered.

The transition to the Phase 3 Work-readiness Programme entails working at one of U-turn’s social enterprises. These include an endemic nursery, a maintenance and construction company, a charity shop, and a web development and Sales force-certified company. Once a week, they have a personal development day. The Champions, as the clients are known, have a case worker that journeys with them on the different modules. They learn life skills which include an accredited computer course. The Champions also have access to a counsellor. U-turn has three transitional homes for Champions where a safe environment is provided for them to work on their recovery as they integrate into a life of independence.

When the Champions are employed, sober and living independently, they graduate from the programme and can bring positive change to society in the same way as vigorous young lions can in their pride.

Cathy Achilles is the online media co-ordinator and spokesperson at U-turn Homeless Ministries