City prepares to help homeless during winter

The City of Cape Town is bracing for an influx of street people needing help over winter and is calling on charities and shelters to apply for aid to help them.

Every year the City’s social development and early childhood development directorate collects food, blankets, mattresses and toilets, as part of its winter-readiness programme, for distribution to qualifying charities that work with the homeless.

“Some shelters are overrun by requests for assistance in winter, when many street people look for a warm and dry place to sleep.

“Our contribution is meant to ensure that these organisations can help as many people as possible,” said Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for social development.

Some 16 organisations qualified for aid in 2014, and this number rose to 17 last year.

Earlier this year, the City held a winter-readiness workshop with organisations to assess the programme.

It looked at why some requests were rejected and how to streamline the programme.

Ms Little said the application period would now close on May 13, following a suggestion at the workshop to extend it.

Applications by registered non-governmental or non-profit organisation, which have overnight facilities and comply with all health and safety codes, can be made online at www.capetown.gov.za/en/social develop/Documents/Winter_Readiness_Application_Form2016.pdf.

Apart from funding the winter readiness programme, the City will continue with its street people programme to help people get off the streets and prevent others from ending up there.

“One of the most frustrating challenges continues to be people who refuse our offers of assistance,” said Ms Little.

“We can’t force anyone to accept help, but, on the other hand, it looks like we aren’t doing anything to address the issue. I have to remind the public that it is not a crime to be homeless.

“There are by-laws that prohibit certain behaviour in public and our law enforcement officials act as far as they can in enforcing these by-laws, but, ultimately, we cannot force people off the street.”

Of the 4 377 people screened by the City’s reintegration unit between July 2015 and February 2016, 3 328 (76 percent) refused assistance.

The rest were referred to shelters and other social services, reunited with their families, or assisted with temporary work opportunities through the expanded public works programme.

Ms Little appealed to the public not to give hand-outs to people on the street as these only encouraged them to stay there.

”I once again appeal to the public to give responsibly. Find a shelter or charity and channel donations through them. Giving directly to someone begging on the street corner simply keeps them there and does nothing to improve their lot in the long-run.

“In fact, handouts perpetuate a devastating cycle that we are trying very hard to break, but we need everyone to work together to make that happen.”