Sharing Dignity

We need to get involved in the business of restoring dignity.

With the storm raging it is surprising to NOT see more comments on social media tonight about the plight of the street folk, sleeping in dark, wet alleys surrounded by gushing wind and onslaughts of sound waves reverberating through their already shivering blankets. Tucked warmly in bed we say a prayer and resolve to find out how we can help - tomorrow - and tuck in to drift off. As we drive through the branch bestrewn shimmering streets, dropping kids off or heading to work, we see the wet, the rain, the cardboard against the fence, and again thank whomever that we and ours are safe, warm and dry.... and spare a thought for the street folk who we hope are tucked into the night shelter, warm and dry too.

The reality? The night shelter shuts at 7am, at which time unless you are quite literally dying, you and what belongs to you, are no longer 'inside'. And so starts your day, leaning into the storm you blend under awnings and cower from the rain, your feet exposed you trudge through the water and find a dry-enough place under a safe-enough cover hoping you'll be there long enough to dry a bit. This is life and you're making the most of it.

We hardly see these members of OUR society. We hardly notice their comings and goings. When we notice it usually has many strings of guilt tied in secure knots to our hearts and we hand out money to ease their suffering, to ease ours. Yet, despite the immense goodwill and kindness in the Helderberg basin, the night shelter is filled to capacity long before even remotely all who need help, have received it. The ones not accommodated in the night shelter, roam the streets for shelter during the night, hungry and exposed. With many street folk being un-IDed, they are denied even a space on the system and thus lose the luxury of a grant to buy even the most basic of necessities.

While very few are brave enough to reach out, some do. One such a street-angel is Vanessa Willis-Schoeman, a single mom and part-time student from Somerset West. When not working or studying, she makes soup or receives and hands out soup donated to her for the street folk; she collects and hands out blankets; she shares dignity.

A few weeks ago, a Facebook post told of an old man lying on a filthy mattress in one of the warehouses off the N2. While everyone typed abhorrent shock and horror, Vanessa drove to the area, searched door-to-door and eventually found Casper. With her help, he has received the necessary medication, has been ID-registered and is now under the protection of the night shelter. Members from Somerset 1 Facebook Page donate towards Caspers' monthly needs, soap, Omo, cigarettes, socks. In this they share dignity - being probably one of the most sought after commodities for a street sleeper.

Vanessa and many others like her serve the street sleepers. At first only 9 regularly came to fetch soup and/or blankets from her boot, a number Vanessa says, has grown to an average of 30 - 32 regulars each night. Donations are handed directly to the street folk and where donations are few, Vanessa gives what she has. However, it would seem that a war is raging over the street people. In media, newspapers, on social media and from pulpits, the community is encouraged to stop giving, in an effort to drive street folk from their shelters in the Somerset West area. Where do they go to? Strand? Gordon's Bay? The Karoo?

As a community we can no longer sit passively and pray for the street people to be safe from the storms. As a community we need to stand up and take charge of OUR community. We need to insist that our religious institutions and community organisations organise initiatives to collect blankets and clothes, and donate these to people like Vanessa. We need to pop in at the veg sellers and buy the ingredients or better yet, make the soup and call Vanessa to collect and distribute. We need to get out of our busy lives and 'do' for the sake of our community and all those living in it.

We need to get involved in the business of restoring dignity.

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