*Hi, I’m Cathy. I’m a champion on the U-turn phase 3 work-readiness programme. My passion is communication and I’m part of the U-turn communication team. Every week I will be writing a blog post sharing my personal experience on this programme, to give you a window into the experience of being a champion on the U-turn programme.

Homelessness was a battle to find your old self. You know who you are, you know how you dress… But it’s hard to regain your human ability again, when you’re run down and exhausted. As mentioned in last week’s blog, I spent almost six months at the Stellenbosch COVID-19 temporary shelter for the homeless. The blissful honeymoon period ended and I was back at the night shelter. As mentioned previously, I spent three nights in the beginning of my homeless journey at the night shelter. I was fortunate to have amazing friends that paid my night shelter fees. If it were not for them, I would have also been living on the streets.

It was back to the reality of bad food. Sometimes the food we got at supper was so bad, that some of the residents would exclaim: “what is this! Are we animals?”  It was so bad, my prayer was not to get ill. The experience was psychologically strenuous. I felt discouraged, heartbroken, rejected and abandoned. My thoughts were ’why must we be treated badly just because we are homeless?’ I thought, the notion of beggars not being choosers should stop. A person experiencing homelessness should be treated with dignity, they are human after all. What I experienced at the night shelter made me understand why a lot of people living on the streets do not want to live in night shelters…

After roaming the streets for the day, we would sign in at night and blow the breathalyser. The irony was I would smell strange odours which would indicate that somebody was smoking again. The aftermath of course was intense restlessness throughout the night, which would interrupt my sleep. Sometimes in the toilets I would find small pieces of drug paraphernalia. Time and time again a fight would erupt in the women’s dorm… Most mornings would begin with short temperedness, shouting, screaming a full fledged war zone, yet I kept my peace.

We had to leave the night shelter at past six in the morning and come back at five o’clock in the afternoon. We had to roam the streets during the day. My first stop in the morning was to visit my COVID shelter “family”, who were living on the streets. I would catch up on the latest news on the streets. I would then go to the Eerste river, where I would sit on the bench and spend time with God. I would read my Bible, worship and pray. In the far distance I would see somebody taking a bath in the river. Runners and families taking a stroll. For me, it felt like time stood still, I felt like I was in the throne room of God…The river was my comfort. My sanctuary for a weary soul. My place of rest and refreshment. I felt like I was “drinking” from the river that flows from the throne room of God. It was my place of privacy in public..

After my personal time with God, I would go to my ‘office’. My office was the University of Stellenbosch’s Student Centre, named The Neelsie. I would plug my phone in to charge and instantly I was in a virtual office space. I was determined to get myself out of homelessness… I spent hours searching for jobs online, sent endless business proposals both to corporates and at national government level. I later resorted to sending my proposals to President Cyril Ramaphosa, after I received no reply from the Minister of Sport and Arts and Culture. 

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in all the ventures.. 

My social worker at the night shelter could see that I had exhausted all attempts to become independent again. She recommended I join the U-turn programme. I was accepted and was assigned a caseworker. My U-turn journey started as I volunteered for two weeks at the Durbanville, U-turn charity shop. The volunteering stage gave me an opportunity to experience whether I wanted to join the programme.  After two weeks I told my case worker that I wanted to be part of the P3 work-readiness programme.

If it was not for the U-turn programme. I would still be living from shelter to shelter, three months here, three months there… It’s like a web, an entanglement I would have travelled the whole Western Cape…

Join me next week as I reveal the tapestry of my U-turn adventure.