GC Act: Talk + Clothes-Drive

24 May 2016 - 10:30

From Monday to Wednesday, 23 - 25 May, the GC Programme hosted a clothes-drive for the benefit of U-Turn, a non-profit organisation working with homeless people in Cape Town. The clothes-drive was organised by GC2 student Rowyn Naidoo as a GC-Act initiative.To end off the clothes-drive, Rowyn chaired a discussion on homelessness with Dylan Marais from U-Turn and researcher and policy analyst Tristan Görgens.

In the discussion, participants reflected on the current situation regarding homelessness, specifically here in Cape Town: What are the causes of homelessness? How bad is it? How does it affect the city? What are the homeless people's lives like? What challenges do they face?

From there, participants began discussing how the alleviate homelessness, and whether this would involve 'fixing' it at the core, which is often a long-term plan, or providing immediate help by alleviating the symptoms (hunger, cold, and so on). Participants also considered the various lenses through which homeless people are viewed in our society, for example, that they are drug addicts, thieves, sex workers, and so on. These 'single stories' (as per Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) influence the perceptions of homeless people, and invariably also their access to resources.

When assisting homeless people, through charitable and development work, the dynamics of power between 'benefactor' and 'recipient' almost always come into play. Participants discussed the various ways in which identities are implicated in this - race, gender, age, and so on - and how these affect the service work those wanting to 'help' are engaged with. Finally, participants reflected on homelessness as a social issue, and the implications which arise when we ask whose 'responsibility' it is. Who should 'help' the homeless? Is there an ideal way of 'helping'? What is government's (both local and national) stance on homelessness? How do organisations help? How should people help?

Although this discussion was not all-encompassing, it provided a space for further thinking on the topic for those involved in both government and the non-profit sector, and anyone else interested in doing service work for the benefit of those most marginalised in our society.