AS most people prepare for festive fun around this time of year, Haven of Hope Shelter for Homeless the first council-approved shelter for the homeless in Durban, celebrates a year of helping those in need.
Charlene Usher has always had a heart for those in need, and while it took nearly six years to get through the red tape and meet all the detailed requirements to realise her dream of establishing a safe haven for those who have fallen through the cracks of society, she is as enthusiastic today as she was when it first opened a year ago.
“I see how people are suffering on a daily basis. I just pray that we are able to help more people out there because the need is so great. Unfortunately, we have to charge a fee to upkeep the place and we run a tight ship, we invest in keeping it clean and secure so people feel good about being here. In the past year we have a number of women and a few men who have made this their “permanent home away from home.”
A self-proclaimed clean and neat freak, Usher said her team were just as particular about ensuring the shelter’s two floors (separated for men and women) remained in pristine condition.
“Initially, this was a big challenge because I had to make sure the homeless people understood our fundamental rule – once you get here you have to have a shower before you are assigned a bed. Coming from other shelters, they were confused as this had never been a requirement as some places don’t have lights and water,” she explained.
Today, the homeless people are happy to have their clothes as well as pillow cases and bedding washed in the laundry area. Charlene is quite proud that they are also able to assist disabled homeless people. “I want to give them back their dignity, they are a part of our society and deserve respect and care,” she said.
She said she and her staff have become mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nurses and counsellors to many, and they see many of the homeless as an extension of their family. “I think my African Grey Tweety has also been a big help in healing a lot of our homeless. They love to chat to him and just have him around. I think having us and a pet gives them a bit of family life and they really miss him when he doesn’t visit,” she said.
Charlene says her eyes have been opened to the gut-wrenching stories of Durban’s forgotten. “We have seen families of devastating fires come here, psychiatric patients with no family to care for them, dozens of pensioners, women who leave partners and end up on the street, there are all types of people from all walks of life,” she said.
While Usher remains confident through her strong faith and prayers that her wish of being able to provide a meal for the homeless people everyday, will happen one day, she is grateful to two churches that have a feeding scheme at the shelter every Sunday and Monday and friends, family and Durban businesses who sponsor meals.
We call it the Hilton of Shelters
“I have come here for a place of serenity and conformity. I like that there are rules here, and the sense of belonging we all feel,” Deen Mohamed Brauwer, who has made Haven of Hope his home, told Berea Mail.
Brauwer said before he had arrived at the big grey door of the shelter, on Soldiers Way in the Durban CBD, he had moved around “from pillar to post” at various shelters. “People with no identity find their purpose here. You have to abide by the rules and that gives you a controlled existence which is something you lose if you have not lived in a home environment and you have to constructively deal with issues and problems. “There are no drugs, alcohol or any destructive behaviour is not allowed on the premises and that sets it apart. I’m on a disability grant and have been estranged from my family for a long time, but really feel like I can seek a better future here,” he said.
Being gay and living on the streets is a very difficult existence, Jessie Goodman said. “I just feel safe here. The staff are friendly and don’t discriminate against your colour, creed or sexual orientation. The best thing I think is the cleanliness, we all want to live and sleep in a clean environment and have people treat us with respect and we get that here. I have been at other shelters and inmates abuse you for being different, at some you are better off taking your chances on the street. We call it the Hilton of Shelters.”
Goodman was 16 years old when his family kicked him out of his home after he revealed he was gay. “I feel like there’s still hope for me. There are good people here who believe in me, I can ask for the iron and dress neatly and go for interviews.”
Kami Gordon who recently arrived at the shelter with her daughter said, “When you haven’t lived in a shelter your whole life, you walk in very afraid. I was happy to find people who are decent, no drug addicts and a separate section for women and children,” she said.