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SELF-HELP ON THE STREETS: HOW SA’S HOMELESS ARE HELPING THEMSELVES

Multiple NPOs, government organisations and international schemes exist for poverty alleviation to lift the homeless out of their vulnerable situations. However, this poverty alleviation for the homeless does not only flow from donors to vulnerable communities. What steps are South Africa’s homeless communities taking to help themselves and one another and how are these poverty alleviation initiatives empowering those on the street?

South Africa’s poverty stricken and homeless community have a long history of engaging in self-directed initiatives to alleviate problems and improve their situations. One important example of this is the South African Homeless People’s Federation (SAHPF), which was founded in 1994. The SAHPF emerged because its members needed to develop the “capacity to conceive, control and implement their own poverty alleviation strategies via the development of their own communities,” according to the SAHPF mission statement. South African researchers Ted Baumann, Joel Bolnick and Diana Mitlin say the Federation encourages its members to take part in various poverty alleviation saving schemes and to save a little bit each day with the ultimate aim of securing housing or land.

The Federation saw huge poverty alleviation success in its first five years and by July 1999, there were 70 000 members actively saving money, with a joint total of R3.5 million saved. According to Baumann, Bolnick and Mitlin, the SAHPF has played a vital role in helping its members build over 8 000 housing units and has helped over 10 000 homeless families secure their own land.

Currently in South Africa, multiple self-help and poverty alleviation initiatives for the homeless and by the homeless exist. These initiatives target a wide range of needs, from the creative to the economic and beyond.

The Johannesburg Awakening Minds theatre group (JAM) is an example of an initiative that caters to the creative and emotional needs of Johannesburg’s poverty stricken homeless. Founded in 2012 by South African acting coach and actress Dorothy Ann Gould, JAM had humble beginnings as an acting therapy class of 18 homeless men and women. “(JAM) started with Shakespeare very early on because I believe that Shakespeare’s plays, especially the tragedies, are huge receptacles for pain that can help a person heal,” says Gould on her choice of theatre material.

The group has gone on to perform at multiple live events and some of the actors have extended the creative influence of JAM into other artistic pursuits, such as selling paintings at markets. “Donations and sponsorships, as well any small profit from the group’s performances, have helped the JAM members slowly re-enter society,” says Gould. She adds that the attitudes of audience members towards the homeless often change after experiencing a JAM production.  “A lot of audience members have spoken to me and said [they will] never be able to look at another homeless man in the same way,” explains Gould.

Other poverty alleviation initiatives, such as the Hillbrow Entrepreneurship Initiative (HEI) exist to grow a homeless person’s entrepreneurial abilities. Head of communications for HEI, Bobby Thedi, says the initiative is a “non-profit, student-driven organisation [that] seeks to identify, bolster and sustain social entrepreneurs in deprived communities.” Homeless people move through HEI’s programme by being recruited and taught entrepreneurial skills “in order to make their ideal project a success while improving their own social and economic conditions,” says Thedi.

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These aren’t just words, neatly packed to sound helpful “in theory”; these are the very real concepts on which the global movement of positive change is built.
It’s with these ideas that The Philanthropic Collection home to The CEO SleepOut is turning old world philanthropy on its head;
getting business leaders to sleep on the streets to raise funds and gain empathy for the homeless in The CEO SleepOut Event;
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www.theceosleepoutza.co.za

By Jessica Alberts