Why private sector is important in the fight against homelessness in big cities

Published Jul 12, 2023


By: Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzantsi

Instinctively, people only open up to what they know, what they have heard of or what has a good reputation.

With the belief that money is destructive for people experiencing homelessness, many citizens and organisations have been putting forward measures where they support homeless people without giving them money.

At most traffic light corners where homeless people beg, you find motorists slowing down to donate food, blankets, clothes and any other useful items for the homeless person in that particular time.

In U-Turn’s quest to also contribute positively towards finding long-term, if not permanent, solutions in replacing money in the streets of Cape Town and Johannesburg, the organisation has introduced Mi-Change vouchers that residents would rather give to homeless people instead of money. The education behind the voucher is for community members to give responsibly, especially because most homeless people have alcohol and drug addiction problems, which become perpetuated when you give them money.

Through the Mi-Change voucher, a street person can access a warm shower, a hot meal and clothing items from the stated homeless support centres on the voucher pack. However, what’s more liberating is giving homeless people access to holistic therapeutic sessions that help to prepare their minds to leave the street.

While there’s no obligation, we always put emphasis on the significance of having private sector business owners join hands to help address homelessness in their areas. What U-Turn always pleads for is for business owners who operate in areas where there’s mountainous homelessness to become resellers of the vouchers. This means customers can purchase vouchers in those businesses and help to get people off the streets.

What has been really interesting lately is noticing that some local business owners are not interested in reselling the vouchers, mainly because they believe that through these vouchers, homeless people will flood their areas and compromise the quality of their suburbs as well as their safety.

I understand that crime statistics have been really scary in South Africa. However, I also understand that homelessness does not mean criminality. A person does not become a criminal by the virtue of being homeless. Such views present us with an opportunity to apply effective public participation methods to assist us in educating our potential partners and key stakeholders. I also believe that public participations are a critical approach to debunking stigmas attached to homelessness.

That’s why U-Turn and other organisations like streetscapes continue to enhance education about homelessness. To change narrative and educate on the complexities and misconception of homelessness, U-Turn launches its debut film “Shelter at the Masque”, starring a formerly homeless Quintin McLaughlin. The film is a great work of art by U-Turn partnered with Rea Thusana Foundation, a NPO with a goal to restore the dignity of people experiencing homelessness in South Africa.

Alternating between sleeping under the bridge and sheltering outside of the Masque Theatre, Quintin never envisaged his life changing three years ago until he heard about U-Turn Homeless Support Centres serving unhoused people in Muizenberg.

The film explores the struggles of drug addiction and how homeless people are used by gangsters for protection on the streets. The film also looks into the psychological scars that people who experienced chronic homelessness for years are left with. In a democratic South Africa, where homeless people for a long time had no voice and safe space in our society, this film is a reflection of overcoming, freedom and empowerment of people who were once visited by homelessness.

Without having active partnerships with business owners, we wouldn’t be able to reach the most needy and desperate people. The main goal of any charity organisation is to grow and leverage its impact on our society. We appreciate fuel station owners, retailers, and restaurant owners for sharing their generosity and supporting responsible giving in their local communities.

* Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzantsi is a political science graduate from UWC and works as media specialist at U-Turn Homeless Ministries

The Star

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