Somerset West Night Shelter – hope and dignity for the homeless

Jo Swart, Chairperson of the Somerset West Night Shelter, became involved with the organisation as a volunteer  ten years ago. Raised in the quaint, quiet ‘burbs of Noordhoek, where homelessness was an unknown concept, Jo found the obvious plight of the many street people in the Helderberg area a shock to her system when she moved to Somerset West. A naturally caring and compassionate person, with a great ability to ‘get things done’, Jo formed a team of volunteers and assisted the Shelter (which had been running for 17 years by this time) by preparing a meal once a month. This gave the Shelter staff the night off and provided a ‘treat’ meal for the homeless making use of the Shelter’s facilities. This volunteer group’s contribution grew to the point where they were providing a Christmas party, and catering for other special occasions. 

After five years, Jo was invited to join the core volunteer committee of the Shelter. Although the Shelter was being run with the best intentions and as efficiently as possible, there was room for improvement. The committee then invited Jo to take over as Chairperson so that they could retire. ‘Ridiculous’, was Jo’s first thought, ‘How will I manage?’ her second. As a minister’s wife, a mother of two young children and working full time did not leave much time or energy for taking on the responsibility of an organisation that accommodates up to 60 homeless adults per day. The money was running out at that time and the possibility of having to close the doors was a real one. Somehow, with help from others, wisdom and experience drawn from another Shelter’s management and support from the church, Jo and her team managed to save the Shelter. However, the next two years proved to be a struggle for everyone on the management team after major problems with the resident Shelter manager came to light. Bureaucracy and politics made for a long-winded, stressful process but in the end, new staff, new rules, and new motivation moved the Shelter forward. 

In the five years since Jo and her team have taken over the management of the Shelter, it has grown incredibly, from an annual income figure of R170 000 to R1 700 000. This just shows how a well-run organisation can turn things around. The additional income has had a direct impact on the care extended to the individual. It costs, on average, between R50 and R80 per individual, per day, to provide adequate care, reintegration, rehabilitation, and facilitation. The Shelter staff has increased from three to eight, which has made a significant impact. 

The organisation is now at a point of transition. It needs to move to the next level to increase services in the Helderberg. A communication strategy, which revolves around the ‘give responsibly’ campaign is being developed to raise the profile of the Shelter in the area and to make people more aware of the needs of organisation. Expansion plans include a mobile Shelter, in the form of a bus, and two more Shelters, similar to the existing one, and hopefully, a day centre. 

So, what do Jo and her team need? Remember, the vision is to provide hope and dignity. The goal is to encourage the public to give responsibly and to make a difference with compassion, a fair amount of humour and a lot of hard work. You can become involved by knowing about the Shelter, understanding that if you put money into a street person’s hands, it will most likely feed a drug habit. GIVE RESPONSIBLY, buy the Shelter vouchers. Homelessness is a specialised need. It is complex in the way it needs to be addressed. Those involved in the organisation have developed the necessary skills and have access to the appropriate resources and structures that most members of the public don’t. The homeless should not be society’s shame. All people, no matter who they are, or what their situation may be, deserve hope and dignity. 


Registered as a non profit organization in terms of the Non Profit Organisation Act NPO 004-284 PBO No.930 000 494 Section 18A

 t: +27 21 851 4984   f: 086 685 2155   e: info@swnightshelter.org.za

PO Box 1628 Somerset West 7129 / 71 Church Street, Somerset West 7130 South Africa (Turn off Victoria Street into Sergeant Street & right into Church)

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