Finding solutions to homeless challenge

2019-09-03 06:00
Sam Vos, director of U-turn, at the NGO’s quarterly breakfast.PHOTO: Dean Sass

Sam Vos, director of U-turn, at the NGO’s quarterly breakfast.PHOTO: Dean Sass

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The City of Cape Town’s move in July to start issuing fines to the homeless caused a nationwide outcry. Since then little has been resolved, however, it did cast a light on a very real problem which most, it seems, would prefer to ignore.

Sam Vos, director of U-Turn, a registered Christian non-governmental organisation (NGO), says people have mixed emotions when it comes to the homeless.

“Some of us feel guilty, some anger and others fear. It is also easy to feel defeated. To think there is no solution. But I stand here with hope.”

Vos was speaking at U-turn’s quarterly breakfast held at its headquarters in Kenilworth on Thursday 22 August where he made the brave announcement that the NGO wanted to solve homelessness.

The organisation has been grappling with the challenge for the past 21 years. Vos believes that through the years it has refined a winning formula aimed at getting people off the street and into permanent jobs in the open labour market.

“We have crafted an innovative skills-based programme designed by occupational therapists, with long-term results for rehabilitation and reintegration. Six months after graduation from the programme, more than 80% of our participants remain employed and sober,” he says.

U-Turn’s outreach programme starts with basic needs relief at its service centre, continues with drug and alcohol rehabilitation support and culminates in a work-based learnership with relapse prevention that lasts an average of 19 months.

Vos says by combining these building blocks with the right thinking, U-Turn can scale its solution to deliver en masse. At present, U-turn assists more than 1 000 people with basic needs relief at its service centre and the programme has 29 people enrolled in its worked-based learnership, which it hopes to grow to 250 per intake in the near future.

“Various community organisations from the City Bowl, Parow, Muizenberg and Sea Point have already reached out to us, asking us if we could expand our reach to include service centres in their areas,” says Vos.

He says U-Turn has drawn up an action plan to help make this a reality. Expanding its retail offering (at present it has a U-Turn charity store), growing its “patient” employer programme, establishing a textile recycling depot and starting a culinary skills programme are but a few of its strategies.

“But these ambitious plans require help. We’ve realised that we have to get better at communicating our needs to the community. We have tried to make it as easy as possible for the community to get involved through our website (homeless.org.za),” says Vos. 

Ways to help include monetary donations, buying vouchers, donating “gifts in kind”, volunteering time and skills or dropping off old clothes in U-Turn clothing bins.

“Our vouchers cost R100 for a pack of five. This affords a homeless person a meal at our service centre in Claremont. But, more importantly, it puts them in contact with a place where they will receive more than just short-term relief. At our service centre, they have a chance to start their journey to employment and reintegration into society,” says Vos.

  • For more information, call 021 674 6119, email info@homeless.org.za or visit its website at homeless.org.za
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