The Net was launched in March 2020 by Carolyn Axmann after a year of research and consultation with multiple parties working in the street people/homeless fields in the greater Cape Town area. The Fish Hoek-based programme initially had the use of a local church hall but as fears of COVID-19 grew, neighbours around the Church objected to a perceived increase of infection in the neighbourhood by homeless.
The City of Cape Town announced that all homeless, including street people without homes to shelter in during Lockdown, would be moved to a site at Strandfontein. While that site was being established, The Net coordinated all the individual feeding schemes that had taken place in different locations across Fish Hoek, to run at the Fish Hoek Civic Centre.
"Initially, this was very effective," Axmann said. "It was easier to deliver food and donations to the roughly 40-60 people situated at the Civic.” The temporary, structured feeding operation came to an end with the transport of the homeless to Strandfontein.
Axmann said, "It was an incredible learning experience and display of human generosity and pulling together in the face of adversity. However, what we saw was that hand-outs and feeding schemes, however generous and well-intentioned, do not help. They lead to a sense of entitlement and demanding, and dissatisfied behaviour from some of the homeless. They simply make beggars of our people. It was clear that a focused, coordinated approach to manage street people was needed that does not involve hand-outs."
THE NET is currently working with several homeless and street people ("clients") who have returned to Fish Hoek and are committed to transitioning out of street living. The programme is running from a public building at the moment, however, this is a very short-term arrangement.
All clients (street people and homeless) are required to go through a 5-day Orientation programme. This includes workshops discussing the value of work, self- and situational analysis, communication and inter-personal skills development.
From the second week, clients commit to a daily programme starting at 08h30. The day starts by sanitising the kitchen, making breakfast, and are given time to decompress or discuss their night-time challenges. After the kitchen has been cleaned and sanitised, a 2-hour workshop is held which can range from drug counselling and rehabilitation, to entrepreneurial development. Clients are given the opportunity to meet with social workers, medical staff from local organisations like Living Hope, and addiction counsellors. Other workshops can include baking, exercise, art and music, etc. The Net is also undergoing research and development workshops for unique and luxury products that can be made by clients and sold under The Net branding.
From 11h00 – 15h00, The Net runs a Work-For-Credit programme, the beginning of the path to becoming gainfully employed. It promotes that acceptance to society requires hard work, not hand-outs.
During Level 4 of the Lockdown, clients have picked up litter and unblocked drains around Central Circle, engaged in a baking workshop, and made marmalades and jams to be offered for sale. Four hours of work are scheduled daily: two are considered community service and two are paid at minimum wage. This is followed by a lunch, prepared by clients and enjoyed "family-style".
Clients are employed on a 3-month fixed term contract.
Currently, clients are employed in the WARD64FOOD initiative. This is a joint collaboration between The Net, Revamp The Valley, and Ward Councillor Aimee Kuhl (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Cell: 062 873 2894) to deliver food parcels to residents of Fish Hoek and Sun Valley who are without income during this time. The Net's clients are responsible for the sorting and packing of the food parcels. The food items are paid for by donations to the initiative as no City funding of food hampers are being received in the area.
The Net evaluates the skills and abilities of clients and will make resumes available on the website. Clients offer a wide range of skills and experience, and time and skills are given a "credit value". Members of the community can request a service and The Net arranges a client to provide that service. Credits earned can then be “spent” on items donated to The Net, such as soap, toothbrush, sleeping bag, clothing, etc.
In this way, clients build a resume, as well as a list of references, which can then be used to gain formal employment. Clients are screened and drug-tested prior to employment.
A PERMANENT FACILITY
The Net is engaging with the City and Provincial governments to rent a building that can be a permanent base for The Net. This will, ideally, include offices for social workers and addiction counsellors, activity and workshop spaces, calming areas, ablution facilities, and a kitchen.
By having a permanent facility, local residents will not need to navigate people begging or loitering on the streets as all homeless and street people will have a place to go during the day. We can then engage with Law Enforcement or SAPS to direct those on the street to The Net. Ablution facilities will also be available, preventing people from using storefronts or pavements as toilets.