During our time in Cape Town we were fortunate enough to be able to shadow some incredible social workers. I was able to learn so much about how social workers operate here in South Africa.
I was placed with an organization called The Haven Night Shelter. They have over 20 homeless shelters throughout the Cape Town area. Each shelter typically has one social worker that meets with over 50 clients. The clients come into the shelter and are given an assessment upon arrival. The assessment is a brief meeting to determine whether the individual is indeed homeless. This assessment is a requirement that allows the individual to enter the shelter.
Once the person has come into the shelter they are required to meet with the on-site social worker within the first 5 days to come up with a PDP- Personal Development Plan. This plan lays out some goals that the individual will work on during their time at the shelter. The main goal is to have each client reunified with their family or to be able to have a private accommodation/integration. The client will meet with the social worker every so often to check in with their plan and make sure things are going well. The plan typically includes goals around employment and rehabilitation if drugs or alcohol are an issue.
While working with the social workers in these shelters I discovered some similarities and differences between shelters in Cape Town and in the states. The social workers are very over worked here and have massive amounts of clients assigned to only one social worker. Thus, burnout rates are very high. This is an issue that social workers deal with in the states. One difference between the two are the way programs are run in shelters. Most shelters in the states only have accommodation for the homeless and they must seek outside resources to deal with personal issues and employment. Another difference was in the definition of being homeless. In South Africa, many people live in informal housing/shacks and this is not considered homelessness. In the states that would be considered squatting or a form of homelessness.
A concern that I had was with the programming. The programs are put in place as a counseling tool to help the clients archive the goals in their PDP. Because there is not formal structure for these programs each shelter had different programs created by their social workers. I found this opens up a door for personal biases to come into the program, depending on the social worker.
Another concern was the lack of space for the LGBT community. There were not any dorms for clients in regards to LGBT and this made things difficult. A transgender client identifying as female will still be assigned to a male dorm unless their ID states their preferred gender. This cannot happen until after a gender reassignment surgery. It just felt very unfair and unsafe for these individuals. I struggled around this. Each person deserves to have a safe space while at a shelter.
I was astonished however, because many clients expressed their gratitude to the social workers and spoke of these shelters as being the best shelters they have been to. You could blatantly see that each and every social worker had a passion for helping their clients and put in the love and long hours to do so.
We were able to shadow at 4 different shelters in the Western Cape. I have learned so much from all of the Haven Night Shelter’s staff here in South Africa and cannot wait to bring some of this knowledge back to the states. Thank you to the Haven and all of the social workers that were so kind to let us follow them around for a few days.