Providing wash facilities (or a lekker shower) for Cape Town’s homeless

Running water and a nice hot shower is something many of us take for granted, but for the many homeless people in South Africa this is not the case. It robs them of their dignity and confidence to pursue work and a livelihood. To address this issue, Viva Con Agua launched a WASH Bus in Cape Town suburbs to support the unsheltered homeless and give them the opportunity to have a shower and use toilet facilities. Sisanda Henda, the project manager of the WASH Bus that has been dubbed Nina Manzi, told BizNews that the number of homeless people in Cape Town had grown to more than 14,000 post-Covid.  In a study of people living on the streets, they indicated that access to water was the main challenge they faced. Henda said the reaction to the project had been ‘phenomenal’ and has led to employment for some of Cape Town’s homeless people. – Linda van Tilburg

The number of homeless people increased drastically post-Covid 

It has been a project that has taken some time in the making. We all noticed what happened after Covid. People have been going through a lot of challenges and one of the main challenges that have come about post-COVID is homelessness. The street population increased drastically. There’s always been an issue of homelessness in Cape Town, but it increased drastically over a very short period of time and this, of course, then sparked conversations around homelessness and how different, more humane approaches could be taken around helping people or just around the issue of homelessness itself. A research project was done which included various stakeholders. Some of the stakeholders were homeless people and questions were posed to people living on the streets on what some of the main challenges were that they faced. Up at the top of the challenges was access to water and of course, linked to water was hygiene, because water is used to sanitise ourselves and to practise hygiene. So, it was decided that maybe there should be a wash facility because a lot of the time homeless people are reliant on public toilet facilities and there’s not much dignity in that. A wash facility was then designed and it was decided it should be mobile as well to access as many homeless people as possible. That’s how we basically came about. That’s what sparked the conversation and the need to have the wash facility created. 

The number of homeless people in Cape Town is really hard to track, but roughly around 14,000. Anything between 14,000 and upwards, but it is a number that is hard to check as well.

2,000 WASH buses deployed that are not reliant on Eskom

The wash bus contains four showers and four toilets and we also have railings for some of our older or slightly disabled clients as well. We have a soap dispenser, liquid soap dispenser, we have a little box so that when somebody comes in, they can put some of their clothing that they’re carrying with them. If they want to change into something or have a little bag, they can put it in there so it remains dry and their shoes as well so it remains dry. It’s just the normal facilities you would get in any other toilet facility as well. It also has gas bottles so that essentially it heats itself. It doesn’t need to rely on any sort of electrical appliance and it has a plumbing system. 

Plans to expand wash buses to other parts of the country

Viva Con Agua is based in the West and in the Eastern Cape but this project itself is currently in the Western Cape only. We run a couple of projects but it’s currently being run only in the Western Cape, but we have plans to increase that beyond the Western Cape. Incidentally, you mentioned how colourful the wash facility is. The creative aspect of it was inspired by schoolchildren in a rural village in the Eastern Cape. Even though it’s not in the Eastern Cape, we have some inspiration from there. They basically came up with the superhero or a she-hero called Mother Water, that’s the meaning. Her name is Nina Manzi, so that’s what we have called the facility itself. She’s like a mother, because the facility embodies maternal characteristics of nurturing and people feeling whole. 

We started in July, so the number is around anything between 1.5 and 2000, roughly. It runs every day except Tuesdays from 9am to 4pm And we also have processes as we have a limited amount of time so that we can allow a lot of people to use the facility. We keep guidelines to increase capacity. We are also embarking on outreach programmes, we encourage our users as well to be our ambassadors to tell other homeless people about this facility. We are also connecting by finding out where the pockets of hopeless people are living and creating awareness to increase the numbers.

The response to the buses has been phenomenal!

 It’s phenomenal. It’s incredible. Yeah, it’s beyond words. If you see what’s happening, words escape one. When you see somebody  who is hopeless, you know, and just kind of hiding or just not feeling good because of the way they look. And then when they come out, they feel so whole. We’re giving people a chance at a new day and a chance to hope again. Some of our clients will go in for a shower and then leave to go to a job interview. We have regulars and a couple of days ago, I hadn’t seen this one client for a very long time and he saw me one day. I just happened to bump into him and he said, I haven’t been coming because I’m working now. Being able to wash myself and improve my appearance really helped my confidence. It really helped me get my life back on track. 

And of course, they feel  like they can relate to others better because their confidence has increased, their sense of worth and their self-image has also improved. 

More partners are needed to expand the project

We are linked to U-turn. They’ve been phenomenal because we are operating on their premises: U-turn is an organisation that is helping people get off streets. We are mainly catering for showers and they are coming in with clothing, food, and also rehabilitative services as well. 

We definitely need outside help and the public has been very vocal, but we are also calling on the public to contribute in various ways to see that this project is always around and can go further. But yes, we need more support, especially when it comes to things like consumables and toiletries. That would be really great. 

We have approached various supermarkets. I don’t expect anything to happen overnight. They have financial periods. Most supermarkets already have projects, but it’s a relationship I really would like to develop further. So, I’m definitely looking into that.

To contribute to Viva Con Agua or support the Wash Bus, click here

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