u-turn 25 birthday

Ending homelessness is inevitable.

A long list of formerly homeless people who will register to vote for the first time after experiencing chronic homelessness is placed on my desk.

I feel emotions flooding my soul as I see my colleagues who were once homeless and hopeless overwhelmed by elation. They don’t want to miss out on a chance to make a difference and let their voice be heard.

I glance with pride as we keep staging and envisioning how Saturday the 18th November 2023 will look like for our Champions. We call people who went through the U-turn four-phased programme Champions because they truly are championing a challenging and an unknown journey of finding a pathway out of homelessness. Being able to take the first step towards rebuilding their lives and manifest the life of renewal is not as easy as it looks, but through determination and accepting change to permanently leave the streets, they find themselves sober and fully present today.

For the first time in years, they are interested in being part of national dialogues and truly embrace their South African citizenship through voter registration participation. I would have made this about the lack of voter registration awareness among the homeless or unhoused population in South Africa. I would continue to make this about the homeless people who still feel excluded and invisible during the voting season because of not having Identity Documents to help them meet requirements to register for elections. I would further continue to whine about the political parties’ manifestos that hardly acknowledge or even accommodate the unhoused population but I WON’T.

This week is about the spirit of renewal.

This week we are celebrating triumph and the new life of those who went through circumstances that had the ability to bury them but they arose and looked beyond their homelessness journey.

In my entire career, getting to witness the healing space of formerly homeless people who were victims of gender-based violence, gangsterism, poverty and lack of opportunities has been a fulfilling life experience.

Through being exposed to their different paths, lifelong learning is literally my everyday life. I am learning that it’s not okay to end small, but starting small is definitely the game changer for a person who truly aspires to transform and grow.

U-turn is a place of mentality evolution, for the past 25 years this organisation has empowered and worked closely with marginalised communities and people from all walks of life, and through sessions that we conduct with formerly homeless people, we ensure that the healing space doesn’t have a condescending tone, doesn’t denigrate, is non-judgemental, is deeply respectful, inclusive, humble and crucially it’s profound!

We always strive to continue making more impact and rescuing more homeless people in South Africa, and that is why U-turn has launched in Gauteng province to offer the successful developmental programme that gets people off the streets and into flourishing lives.

From November 2022, after launching a Charity shop in Johannesburg and providing sheltered employment for 5 Champions, by November 2023, U-turn has a total of 9 Champions on the Work-readiness programme that have access to case management and therapeutic intervention.

This year has been a year of significant growth for U-turn, from launching Mi-Change Vouchers which can be given to a homeless person instead of money in the streets to collaborating with Tshepo Community Development Initiative based in Johannesburg to offer meals, clothing and showers to homeless people who want to leave the streets.

U-turn is also adding a loud voice about the lack of free rehabilitation centres for homeless people in the country.

Currently, only 27% of people living on the streets have access to professional support services within a 4km radius.

Over the next three years we hope to establish three new support centres within a 4km radius to homeless hotspots to help address the growing scourge of homelessness. The targeted areas are Cape Town CBD, Johannesburg CBD, Mitchells Plain, Wynberg and Strand.

U-Turn hopes to raise funds towards this goal.

Help us stand-up to homelessness and help us Champion this cause through impactful collaborations and support. – Siwaphiwe Myataza-Mzatsi, U-turn Homeless Ministries

Originally published in the Cape Times on 16 November 2023

Photo: IEC