Human Right’s Month: Importance of Rehab Programmes for City’s Homeless



South Africa, 09 March 2021: Rehabilitation programmes play a pivotal role in restoring dignity to the homeless population of the Cape Town Central City. Instilling a sense of purpose and pride, they adopt a multipronged approach that focuses on housing, work and substance interventions. One NGO that has helped 85 % of its homeless clients stay off the streets within six months of joining one of its rehabilitation programmes is Streetscapes, an inner city NGO run by Khulisa Social Services in partnership with the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID). LaundReCycle is its latest initiative, which serves the dual purpose of creating jobs and greening communities.


South Africa’s current unemployment rate is 32.5 %. That means 7.2 million people have no work. Against this bleak background, it is essential to begin addressing chronic homelessness. Rehabilitation programmes play a pivotal role in restoring dignity to Cape Town’s homeless population. Instilling a sense of purpose and pride, they adopt a multipronged approach that focuses on housing, work and substance interventions.


Pat Eddy, Social Development Manager for the CCID, says we need to address the reasons why people find themselves living on the streets. Eddy says there are systemic issues with many people living on the streets, as they come from dysfunctional families and experience severe poverty and deprivation. Short-term welfare is not a meaningful option to address these issues. Says Eddy: “If we can provide rehabilitation through work and an income, there should then be no reason for a person to beg.”


Eddy says that almost all people living on the streets have suffered some kind of trauma with associated mental illness and substance issues which makes them highly unlikely to access formal employment. Streetscapes provides intensive rehabilitation that holistically assists individuals to access the help and incentives needed to reduce the harm they are currently experiencing and become contributing members of society.


Individuals who participate in Streetscapes programmes work in a several ventures that benefit the public at large, including growing organic vegetables, farming free-range eggs, keeping the streets clean and, now, washing clothes.


LaundReCycle is a collaboration with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, says Johann du Bois Mostert, Social Enterprise Manager for Streetscapes. “The project tests a laundromat concept that uses a closed water cycle and solar power. It enables our team to learn about green technology while benefiting the broader community. We encourage residents and businesses to pay us a visit!”


Located at Khulisa’s Roeland Street urban garden, the off-grid service creates jobs and contributes to greener communities. Customers can also enjoy fresh juices, buy organic vegetables and chat to the gardeners and workers. Importantly, this creates a platform for two communities to meet in a positive way.


Why work is an important part of rehabilitation

Jesse Laitinen, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Khulisa Social Solutions, says work is very important, and not always included in rehabilitation programmes due to the cost and other complications.


“Unemployment has been shown as a main cause for stress and other mental health issues. Anger and hopelessness due to not being able to work, support families or fix one’s own problems can translate into addictions, anti-social behaviour as well as family violence. We cannot afford not to include employment in every programme addressing poverty and subsequent challenges in South Africa.”


She adds that by working, Streetscapes’ clients earn the respect of community members and build new relationships. “They gain confidence in their skills and experience agency and mastery – something we all need to feel good about ourselves. They also learn important life skills and work readiness that helps us reintegrate them to other opportunities.”


In December, three previously homeless participants got jobs – two as cleaners and one with City Parks. Another two individuals are starting their studies as social auxiliary workers, with the intent of helping other homeless people.


But work alone is not the silver bullet.

Laitinen stresses it’s just one of many necessary components, including housing, mental health services, medication, substance interventions, legal assistance, skills development and help reconnecting with families.


The project is expensive as the rehabilitation requires intensive psycho-social support, but it works. Eddy says this is why a partnership approach is critical going forwards. In the past, the CCID and Streetscapes have collaborated with Long Street businesses to rehabilitate some of the homeless who were causing strife with customers. These businesses contributed a stipend to help support these individuals with housing, upskilling and employment. As a result, they flourished and took ownership of “their street”, keeping it clean and free from any antisocial behaviour. A win for everyone involved.


Eddy says that we need to use the lessons from holistic rehabilitation programmes to develop viable policies and alternative accommodation models to the current shelter system. Last year, Khulisa piloted a supportive housing project in Walmer Estate, which offers not only accommodation to about 25 people but a range of services. “When you give someone agency and hope, amazing things can happen. We need to ask ourselves how our society can become part of the solution. We need more partnerships and collaborations. Through these, we can offer so much more and see real, lasting results,” says Eddy.


The partnership of the CCID and Streetscapes is an example of this philosophy in action. The CCID has been sponsoring Streetscapes from its inception and is the main sponsor of one of its gardens, two bin projects and two street cleaning projects. The NGO is also a beneficiary of the CCID’s annual Show You Care fundraising campaign, Hope for the Homeless.