During the summer, along with three other students from the School of Information, I worked at the head office of the Haven Night Shelter Welfare Organization, the largest network of centers for homeless people in Cape Town, South Africa. From this experience, I learned that housing homeless people at shelters is by itself not enough to solve homelessness — it is just a solution for houselessness.
Homelessness is not solved until a homeless person lives in harmony with a family, within the community, and has a place to call home. Therefore, a shelter’s mission should go beyond the short-term vision of providing physical shelter toward the long-term vision of helping homeless adults to get back to a home, family and community.
Haven Night Shelter’s vision is that the shelter is the first step for homeless people to stand up and get reunified with the community. In order to be housed at Haven, thus, a homeless person has to agree and commit to a Personal Development Plan with the social worker to get out of the Haven and reintegrate with family or into the community within a six-month period.
Our project primarily dealt with technical information problems. Over the past year, the Haven developed a client registration system (CRS) with two goals: to increase efficiency in reporting to stakeholders, in particular the federal agency that is the Haven’s primary funder, and to glean data-informed insights about the Haven’s operations and accomplishments.
However, the organization had some questions about how well the CRS was being integrated into the day-to-day operations at each shelter. We approached the task in two phases — first, we sought to uncover the strengths and potential weaknesses of the CRS as it is currently being used. Next, we created tools to help employees make the best use of the CRS.
Although the CRS was our main focus, I had the chance to work independently close to underserved homeless people, understand their issues, and examine the organization’s assistance programs to help homeless people to get back to a home, family, and community. From my daily conversations with those underserved people, I found that the most important assistance that they need from the City of Cape Town is providing affordable housing close to employment locations.
Thus, this experience affirmed my passion for making sustainable changes in housing policies and systems that create affordable housing to low- and middle-income households.