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Garden programme restores hope and purpose for City's homeless
​A number of successful gardening programmes are being run
at homeless shelters established by theCity during the Covid-19
pandemic.

Pictures: BUSISWA CHILIZA

The 12 emergency homeless shelters established by eThekwini Municipality around the City in response to Covid-19 have become therapy centres to many residents of these shelters writes Nonduduzo Ngcongo.

 

THE emergency shelters established by the City in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has offered the City’s homeless time off the street to pause, reflect and do some internal introspection about their future through participating in the many skills training and developmental programmes on offer.

At three of the homeless shelters visited recently, residents have started their own gardens to grow vegetables. They shared their stories about how the shelters have offered them a new lease of life.
At the Jewish Shelter, situated behind the Elangeni Hotel on Durban’s beachfront, a group of 13 homeless people call their programme ‘Clean Green and Safety Garden’ which they started in June.

The team grow mostly green vegetables including lettuce, spinach, chillies as well as tomatoes. They have also recently starting planting granadillas. Site Manager, Binky Mkhize said the work is at an advanced stage with some plants almost ready for market. “I am amazed by their commitment, hard work and change of heart in the way they look at life. These are normal people who deserve a second chance.” For access to market, Mkhize said they had a very promising meeting with the Department of Correctional Services who have also undertaken to assist to expand the garden programme through fisheries. “We are planning to engage a few soup kitchens, including the ones run by the Municipality, to procure vegetables from us,” he said. Mkhize said the programme has been a success as many people from the group have realised the mistakes they have made in life and are committed to starting afresh.

They also want to donate some of their produce to the community to show them that they have truly turned their lives around. The second gardening site is at Block AK situated in Greyville which started in July and is also progressing well. Site Manager, Sma Ntsodi said the programme comprises of eight members. One of them is responsible for flowers seedlings with the other seven focusing on growing spinach, cabbage, carrots, beetroot and sugar. She said the planting is 45 percent done with some vegetables growing faster as they are winter plants.

At the Lahee Park Shelter in Pinetown, the gardening programme comprises of six males and four females who grow spinach, green beans, onions and tomatoes. The gardening team said the camp makes them feel at home. They said they have been treated with respect by the camp managers who have set them on the right path. Pinetown Site Manager, Xolani Luthuli said the dedication from the team is out of this world. “They are truly reformed and eager to have a brighter future.

To better capacitate the homeless, Farming God’s Way and Gibbor non-governmental farming organisation provided skills training such as new and innovative ways of planting and both organisations have committed to buying from us once the produce is ready.” The homeless participating in the project are being skilled and mentored by Bheki Khoza from the Municipality who oversees community gardens and farming service projects. Private sector companies also provide agricultural expertise to the group.

Ntsodi said the support from stakeholders and the private sector, who have donated equipment and
manure, has been amazing. “This gives practical meaning to government’s message that if public and
private sectors join hands, more can be achieved.” Well-known radio personality, Alex Mthiyane is among the high-profile people who have come forward and sponsored the programme with seeds and manure to show their support for the initiative. Ntsodi said the group is no longer interested in roaming the streets and rather use their spare time to play sports or engage in other hobbies.

Nomusa Shembe, Senior Manager from the Safer Cities Unit said her unit is facilitating the programme. She said the Municipality is grateful to their partners including non-governmental, faith based and civil society organisations who are committed to the homeless project. Shembe said the programme has helped some homeless people realise their mistakes resulting in them being reunited with their families. The shelters provide basic needs including three meals a day, toiletries, sanitation and offer health care services such as a drug management programme, psychosocial support and family reunification. Skills training programmes are also provided on site by professionals.

Since the shelters were established in March, more than 250 homeless people have managed to quit drugs, 189 have returned to their families, 65 have received basic computer training, more than 10 have been moved to old age homes and eight are now permanently employed. Shembe said they are working around the clock and doubling their efforts to manage the homeless issue in the City. “One shelter for women in now functional and two safe sleeping spaces are due for construction this financial year,” she concluded.

nonduduzo.ngcongo@durban.gov.za
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