The VRCID’s Social Development Department, under the management of Wilma Piek, is fuelled by the team’s passion to serve the homeless and vulnerable people on the streets of Bellville and Parow and surrounding areas. Working towards the development of an area significantly challenged by urban decay is no easy task, but Wilma and her team feel optimistic about the positive changes they have made, even in the face of new hurdles which continue to appear.
The MES Safe Space – one of VRCID’s NGO partners – which houses 45 men and 18 women on a first-come first-served basis at a cost of R10 per night, represents a significant portion of the VRCID’s work. For R10, individuals obtain a bed, ablution services and access to critical social services. The primary focus of engagement with these services is about addressing substance abuse, and eventually setting people on paths out of homelessness. The VRCID recognizes the need to address dependency first, as further support then has the chance to prosper.
“MES have created a voucher system – based on the research they’ve done in this sphere – because our community are deeply compassionate and want to give, but they wanted to try and take the money out of the system. So, they created a booklet that you can buy with 10 vouchers in it. These vouchers either cover meals, or a bed at MES’s Safe Space to sleep at night,” says Wilma Piek, Social Development Manager at VRCID. “This way, you can give the booklet to homeless and vulnerable people on the streets of Bellville and Parow, and they can claim a meal at the MES canteen, or a bed in one of Bellville’s Safe Space locations. Our hope is that people will engage with social or outreach workers and receive help in many ways.”
This is the reason why the work of Bellville Haven is valued by Wilma and her team. The Bellville Haven and MES Safe Space have partnered to create a pipeline of services to ensure that the people who are ready to abstain from substance abuse can access a six week out-patient rehabilitation program, while sleeping at the Bellville Haven. The Bellville Haven is a step-up service from the Safe Space (a ‘First Phase Shelter’), and also has a voucher system (R15,00 per night). Once the rehabilitation program is completed, the person can stay at the shelter for up to six months, where they continue with support groups, social work interventions, and the quest to find employment and thus reintegrate into the community or re-unify with their families.
The success of the VRCID’s rehabilitation initiative is largely due to bigger picture thinking. They consider the client’s circumstances when they return to their community, meaning their work is about paving a way towards that. They focus on sustainability, which involves engaging with families, especially when dealing with street children. MES’s KFC Food Parcel Project gives the VRCID an opportunity to refer street children’s parents for food support, as well as parental guidance classes and guidance to access income-generating opportunities.
“We wouldn’t have been anything if it wasn’t for the VRCID. Wilma and her team were the key people to make this possible. What allows us to improve people’s lives are our social workers, and our GROW department. It’s also changing your mindset: realising that everyone has their own story, having empathy for those in need, and reaching out to help” says Joseph Fredericks, Manager of Safe Space at MES.
In terms of handling the complex intersection between the VRCID’s responsibility to ensure public safety by addressing criminal behaviour, and the need to provide social services for those living on the street, the team works closely with their public safety officers, who work first-hand to curb criminality. The VRCID provides introductory sensitivity training for all of their officers and has developed an alternative safety plan. The officers follow a standard operating procedure, which ensures a greater understanding of various medical, legal and technical processes, designed to guide the officers when interacting with people living on the street. VRCID hopes that this standardised and informed approach changes the negative image of public safety officers held by the homeless.
It is through their various partnerships and collaborations that the VRCID has been, and will continue to be, so successful. The Trolley Project, launched in collaboration with The Greater Tygerberg Partnership, awards informal waste-pickers the opportunity to earn a more predictable income by recycling waste for businesses.
A persistent challenge, and one that the VRCID will continue to combat, is that of children living on the street. Through their partnership with El-Theos and Kids Rise Above Circumstances (KRAC), the team works to return children to their families and enrol them into schools.
The VRCID will not lose hope and encourages everyone to join them in their efforts to better the communities of Bellville and Parow, by providing help and support wherever they can. Anyone wishing to assist in these transformative efforts can contact Wilma Piek on 021 823 6713.