News - Sharing Best Practice; Homelessness in Urban Districts

Sharing local and international best practice is an integral part of the CID Forum.
In March, the International Downtown Association (IDA) hosted a webinar on Homelessness in Urban Districts.
Of the three participating districts, the Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District provided invaluable insight for local CIDs into their approach to homelessness.

VRCID works in conjunction with MES (see the presentation given to the CID Forum by MES here)
Notes from the Homelessness in Urban Districts webinar;
Downtown Sacramento and The Golden Triangle (DC) BID

  • A lack of state resources don't appear to be contributing to the number of homeless people in America.
  • Drug addiction and mental health issues are 'keeping' people on the streets. People seem to choose life on the streets because they are not ready/ willing to go to rehab or hospital.
  • In both US presentations no mention of economic factors leading to homelessness.
Dion Dwyer, Downtown Sacramento
  • Housing First + ongoing support = success
  • Get involved from the ground level
  • Communication is key! Stakeholders are more likely to fund a programme when they understand what the desired outcome will be.
  • Collect data! Detailed statistics work in favour of funding programmes
  • Work on an individual need basis; everyone is different and requires different kinds of help.
  • The work is time consuming, but the only way to achieve results is to spend a lot of time on each person.
  • Homeless solutions vs Homeless services
  • Does the programme seek to solve homelessness or just provide medical services to homeless people?
Pat Powell, Golden Triangle BID
  • In order to get people off the streets, the BID employs 3 social workers and shares a manger with the BID next door. This makes sense because people move around. So the work being done by a social worker in the Golden Triangle BID is not replicated or lost when a homeless person moves a few blocks away.
  • The social workers are NB to have the 'good neighbour' conversations with stakeholders in the BID.
  • The needs of the stakeholders must also be met, because at the end of the day they are funding the programme.
  • The Golden Triangle BID has been doing outreach for ten years!
Derek Bock and Wilma Piek, Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District (VRCID)
  •  Not just about safe & clean- social development is a huge part of the CID.
  • 1500 levy payers in the CID
  • 130 available shelter beds in the CID (not the whole of CapeTown)
  • 800 homeless ppl in the CID (8000 in Cape Town as a whole)
  • In VRCID 48% of homeless ppl are escaping family problems. Focus on family reunification and reintegration NB.
  • Collaborative holistic approach (ecosystem) to combat homelessness; City officials, police, shelters, NGOs. VRCID hosts meetings and co-ordinates the efforts of the various entities.
  • Joint operations task team meets once a month to discuss concerns, successes, discuss the area. Includes ops team who are on the street every day.
  • VRCID pays MES to employ people to sweep the streets. (Job creation)
  • MES do their outreach, skills development (job rehabilitation with remuneration), family re-intergration, OT and medical services.
  • Businesses in the CID are encouraged to make use of the work teams that MES manage: gardening, moving furniture, general maintenance
  • VRCID run awareness campaigns; encourage citizens to give more responsibly to beggars. MES food vouchers take the money component out of the system. When a homeless person goes to redeem the food voucher from MES, they not only receive a meal, they also receive medical attention. So the voucher system is also a way of creating a way to access services.   
  • Safe2Park: VRCID have rented a public parking lot from City of Cape Town, Safe2Park rent the space from VRCID. Safe2park screened the informal car guards and gave them the option to stay on and work for a salary. VRCID is also making money out of this now, which goes back into social development.
  • Safe Space: 54 and 70 spaces in existing shelters. Safe Space is a pre-shelter phase. Sleep on mattress, access to showers. Condition is that they must see a social worker while they stay there. People who use drugs and alcohol can stay here as long as they do not cause any trouble. This makes the Safe Space more appealing to addicts/ alcoholics who are not allowed at other shelters. Working very closely with MES, VRCID advocated to City of Cape Town to 'get' the venue. MES runs and manages the Safe Space. The VRCID field workers are based at the Safe Space.
  • VRCID have been able to empower MES (to do amazing work and achieve results) by ensuring that the business owners support MES
  • VRCID aims to provide a Hand Up and not a Hand Out to people living on the street.
The IDA took written questions during the Homelessness webinar. 

Please see the questions & answers below, including Wilma's answers which are very insightful;

Q: What is the cost of outreach i.e. mental health and wellbeing assessment staff?

A: Pat Powell - We spend, according to our IRS 990 $204,000 on our homeless services contract. Most of this is the staff costs for our 3.5 FTEs. In reality, it costs more if you include our staff time. The ACT Team and other resources are paid for by the city through a mix of Federal and local funds. I am unsure the cost of those items.

A: Wilma Piek - The cost of our outreach staff varies between R8,000,00 and R10,000,00 per month in terms of salary (we have two outreach workers) and then their transport cost is about R2,500,00 per month.  We are lucky that one of the auto trading companies in our area is sponsoring the vehicle that they use. In terms of cost, $1 equals approx. R13 (South African Rand).
A: Dion Dwyer - Our outreach costs vary but for a full time outreach worker in California with no formal background other than lived experience we average around $55,000/yr.  An average triage outreach worker should have a case load of no more than 25-30 at a time and should be housing at a 10-15% rate of case load a month.

Q: How do you differentiate between homeless, transients, panhandlers, etc.? Do your approaches differ?

A: Pat Powell - We are able to differentiate between those experiencing homelessness and others on the street by the relationships built by the team. The outreach team is on the street daily engaging with all of the people they encounter. They learn their stories and are able to make those differentiations. Our outreach team only works with homeless individuals.

A: Wilma Piek - In terms of homelessness we distinguish between people living on the streets and homeless people.  People living on the streets are not homeless.  Although they might have a family home where they can live, they often leave their homes due to abuse, poverty, drug use and other social ills.  We often find that the people living on the streets of Bellville, actually do have a family home in the surrounding suburbs or townships.  People who are homeless are seen as people who literally do not have a home they can go to or any family who can give them a home or a place to stay.  Then we also have criminals who pretend to be homeless and of whom the real homeless/street people are afraid of themselves.  Our feeling is that they should receive the same treatment as any other criminal does in our country.
We refer to transients as job seekers  -  which implies that they are people from the rural areas (especially the Eastern Cape) who come to Cape Town in the hope to find work here.  Often they come here with a promise that they have employment lined up for them.  Once they are in Bellville/Parow they might get robbed, they do not find the person who promised them work and they often end up on the street.  If our outreach workers are able to connect with them at an early stage, we are mostly successful to send them back home and re-unify them with their families (we subsidize this process as well).
Our other group of Job Seekers live in the surrounding communities/townships and travel to the Bellville/Parow CBD’s on e.g. a Monday in the hope to find a "piece job”.  They often do not earn enough to travel back and forth every day and end up sleeping on the streets or even the Safe Space and only go home over the weekend to take money to their families as well.  Some of them are unsuccessful to find "piece jobs” and end up remaining on the streets and getting used to the life style of the more hardened street people.  We refer them to our NGO partners who are able to assist them with finding employment or to the GROW project of MES where they can work for a minimal income until they get full time employment.  We also have what we call a EPWP  (Employment Public Works Program), whereby they are put on a three-six month employment program by the City/Government.  They do work, e.g. cleaning the streets, assisting NGO’s, etc. and earn more that they would earn in the GROW project (although still a minimal income).  This do assist a lot, but since it is not long term employment, it can result in making them feel even more de-motivated.  The latter because after 3 or 6 months they are back at square 1.
We do have pan-handlers and we actually started to do research amongst the pan-handlers re their needs, their motivation for doing what they are doing, their general education, whether they live on the streets, etc.  Our research has shown that not all pan-handlers are homeless and doing recycling is a way to create an income for their family caught up in severe poverty.  At the same time we did research amongst the businesses in our area and whether they would be interested in participating in a structured, well managed re-cycling project where the pan-handlers are part of a well-managed project which entails developmental social work, skills development, drug abuse treatment.  Most businesses and pan-handlers indicated that they are interested to participate in such a project.  We are still in the very beginning of this project, but already experiencing a lot of resistance from our residential communities and neighborhood watches.  Hopefully we shall be able to give feedback in a year’s time if we had any success with this project.  We do however believe that structuring an informal process and at the same time, building in some achievable goals in bettering their lives, we might have some success.
A: Dion Dwyer - We do not define an individual by category only by behavior.
  1. If someone is homeless and sleeping in a door way we approach with an offer to sleep in a better place the next night.
  1. If someone is panhandling illegally or aggressively we approach in more of a security fashion and call the police if the behavior is not terminated.
  1. If they indicate they are panhandling due to the individual immediate needs we take approach A listed above and triage for solution based services.
Q: In downtown Victoria, BC, we now have 'safe-injection' sites. Yet, we find higher and higher numbers of needles on the street. Do any of the presenters have a similar experience?

A: Pat Powell - In DC we do not have safe injection sites. I have not personally had any experience in that.

A: Wilma Piek - TB/HIV Care does run a harm reduction program in our area.  They however only provide clean needles and we are not at the point of ‘safe-injection’ sites yet.  When they started with the clean-needle project there was an increase in used needles everywhere.  They have now changed their approach a bit.  With the clean needles the person receive a white plastic container where they must discard the needles once they used it.  They only get clean needles if they return the same amount of used needles.  According to the program coordinator of TB/HIV care in our area, the dumping of used needles has decreased 80% since they use this approach.  In Cape Town TB/HIV care has a Drop-in Centre as well, where the clients can make use of replacement therapy.  They have good success there, due to additional counseling and support services and income generating opportunities.  In our area however, we only have the clean needle project, which in itself does prevent HIV/Aids infection, but does not really have the potential to assist a person who is interested in drug rehabilitation/drug replacement therapy.  With more funds and personnel they will we able to have a service which impact on the drug use as well.  For more info you can contact Yolaan Andrews at e-mail address:
A: Dion Dwyer - Not at this time, however, we are looking at a needle swap that would monetize the used needles for new ones and hopefully eliminate the used needles left in public spaces.
Q: Our transient and homeless population has grown extensively and there are members of the community that believe it is due to an aggressive harm reduction program (including 600,000 syringes distributed over 2 years) our county health department provides in the heart of downtown. Have any of you dealt with a similar issue?

A: Pat Powell - In DC there is a prevailing thought that many homeless end up in DC based on a conscious decision to move somewhere that has extensive services. Recently, DC has begun seeking some level of recent past residency info for those seeking services. Personally, I don’ wholly buy this theory. I believe individuals move into urban areas because of the ease of movement provided by walking and public transit, panhandling opportunities, density of people, and safety. When we have surveyed our population, a significant number of those that responded indicated they were here due to government related delusions. They also said they were here for the same reason we hear many tenants and property owners like the neighborhood… it is clean and safe.
A: Wilma Piek - See my answers at point 3.  The community and law enforcement agencies tend to blame the growth in the homeless population on the syringes distributed.  This is however not always the case.  Homelessness has increased due to a number of reasons, worldwide…drug use being one of the reasons, but not the only reason.  TB/HIV care also state that they started with their clean needle project, because their research had shown that there is a concentration of needle injecting drug users in the Bellville area.  This is unfortunately a case of the chicken or the egg…which one was first.  Explaining the harm reduction philosophy and sharing the statistics on the successes of this program with the community does hep.  Involving the drug users and requesting them to consider the community, use the containers for dirty needles and refrain from injecting drug in public where children see them does help to an extent.  Communicating to the community the different groups of homeless people and different reasons for homelessness do help as well.  They also need guidance on how to assist a drug user responsibly.  This does remain a challenge to get the total buy-in of the community.
A: Dion Dwyer – See response to question three.