Joburg NPO provides food and shelter for city's homeless as Covid-19 bites
When demand for shelter for the homeless grew during the first week of lockdown, Shalene Selkirk, founding director of Fountain for the Thirsty, set out to provide temporary shelters and distribute food parcels to the needy in northern Johannesburg.
Selkirk started the NPO in 2017 to help the homeless in Johannesburg after seeing many hungry and desperate people on her daily commute to Wits University as a student.
“It's easy to see how prevalent the issue of homelessness is in our city. I saw a great need and I figured it can't be that all of those people holding boards and standing at the robots are lying [about being desperate]. I was concerned,” she said.
Now, after serving over 20,000 cooked meals at their weekly dinner table initiative over the last three years, Selkirk’s desire to cater to the immediate needs of the homeless has been reinvigorated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fountain for the Thirsty has set up two temporary shelters — at churches in Hurlingham and in Parktown North — to accommodate over 50 homeless men.
Entertainment has been the key to keeping spirits up at the shelters. Selkirk said they've implemented numerous activities to keep the men engaged, whether it's a talent show or a game of dominoes.
The temporary shelter at the Rosebank Union Church closed its doors on Thursday when life started going back to normal for some homeless recyclers who returned to work under level 4 of the phased lockdown.
“We had empty beds and the running costs did not justify us keeping the shelter open. However, our Parktown North shelter is still operating and we have implemented one-on-one literacy skills to help the 16 homeless men living there with reading and writing,” said Selkirk.
“We are not a food non-profit, but we had to transition during Covid-19. Because we had an additional food supply, we started packing food parcels. The need for food was greater than the need for accommodation.”
“It’s so nice to have water — I love water!” said one temporary resident at the shelter, a recovering drug addict who has been off heroin for only two and a half weeks.
Selkirk, walking with the man around the shelter, said his comment reminded her how hard life is for many. “This man was so grateful to have running water — something that we take for granted because we have never gone without it,” she said.
The organisation provides food parcels within a 30km spread of their service area. Those in need can request via a Whatsapp line, where their details are recorded. When parcels are available, they are contacted to collect them at a nearby spot.
With the help of donations, Fountain for the Thirsty has distributed over 1,800 food parcels during the lockdown.
Those who are interested in donating can purchase non-perishable items they make available on their Facebook page.