Nothing refreshes the fatigued soul like a hot shower or bath. I discovered that a hot shower is a luxury when I had no electricity in my apartment for some time.
I fought battles nobody knew about, months before I became homeless. From the outside I lived a perfect life in my two-bedroomed apartment, but, behind closed doors, there were financial battles. The money that would have sustained me during my dry spell, I had lent to a friend who did not pay it back.
The only money I had was foreign coins from my overseas trips, which I could not exchange. There was no electricity, food or toiletries. I showered daily in ice cold water, used salt as deodorant and toothpaste, praying that I wouldn’t smell. I used old towels that I cut as sanitary cloths. The only food I ate was a few slices of pizza, after the evening church service and that had to sustain me for the week. There was a time when I was without food for more than two weeks and my body was starting to reject water. In the midst of all the turmoil, I had a smile on my face and was volunteering at six services at church, doing the admin and praying for people. Daily I would walk to the library which was 30 minutes away on an empty stomach, trying to save my business by sending business proposals, believing that God would come through by that avenue.
After months, the battle culminated in homelessness, and I went through the shelter system for two years. At the shelters, I discovered even my cold shower was a luxury. My fellow residents who had lived on the streets had it worse. Some had to wash in an ice cold river, others would wash in a bucket behind bushes, if they were lucky. I could relate when they spoke about cold water boiling in their stomachs and their tongues covered with a lining making any food taste horrible after long periods of hunger.
I became emotional the first time I saw the Nina Manzi wash bus at our Claremont Service Centre because people living rough on the streets could enjoy a hot shower for the first time in a long time. During their 15 minutes of privacy, they are able to wash away the painful realities of living on the streets. They receive toiletries and after each person has showered, the facility is cleaned.
By means of a Mi-change voucher given to them by a member of the public or earned doing small tasks at our service centre, a person living rough on the streets is able to take the first step in restoring their dignity. The Mi-change vouchers are a product of a partnership between U-turn and MES, and can be redeemed for food, clothing, showers and a safe space. At present MES has safe spaces in the northern suburbs. And U-turn plans to launch a safe space for the southern suburbs as a stepping stone out of homelessness.
Individuals can choose to join the U-turn Change-readiness programme speak to one of the caseworkers about how to journey out of homelessness. At the service centre, they go through two phases, with rehabilitation in the second phase. During that time U-turn covers their shelter fees. When they are ready, they move over to the Phase 3 Work-readiness Programme, in which they are assigned to our social enterprises for sheltered work experience at our charity shops or BuildBack, a construction company. Weekly training is provided in life skills, bible study and basic computer skills. A caseworker, who is either a social worker or an occupational therapist, is assigned to them, and they can also choose to have a counsellor. And they are placed in one of our transitional homes.
Together with their caseworker, they go through different training stages, namely Foundation, Growth and Exit. When Champions move over to the next stage, we call it “stepping over the line”. A special celebration is held for each milestone. I love the celebration because the journey is hard and it is good to look back at how far we have come. With the guidance of an Exit stage life coach, the individual applies for work. Some are reintegrated with their families; others apply for accommodation. Having secured permanent accommodation and work, they graduate from the programme.
The journey out of homelessness is not easy but, with the assistance of U-turn, people are equipped with the skills to overcome it.
To find out more about Mi-change vouchers go to: https://michange.org/