A souper-human effort to create a homely hub for the homeless

What started as sandwiches, soup and music on a pavement is now a fully fledged homeless support service

05 May 2021 - 19:41
Souper Troopers offers help with employment, home affairs applications, family reunification and shelter options, among a host of other services.
GOT YOUR BACK Souper Troopers offers help with employment, home affairs applications, family reunification and shelter options, among a host of other services.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

Kerry Hoffman was fed up with the sight of homeless people eking out a living inside Cape Town’s Company Gardens. But instead of ignoring them like most other people, she joined them — by hosting a homeless get-together.

From her car she produced sandwiches, soup and a loudspeaker to play music. “I would mount the pavement in my car, between two trees — I felt like it was my garage,” Hoffman said. “I was opening up a space for people to gather.”

A month later she was back with more sandwiches and music, and the crowd grew. She asked friends to help with food donations and before long her street parties were drawing crowds of up to 700 people. There was laughter, dancing and a temporary pause in despair: “The guys on streets gave haircuts, we watched movies and even sang karaoke,” Hoffman said. “What mattered was there is the space to do normal things for a while.”

It's a team effort. There are very few places in the city where homeless people are welcome. We have created such a space.
Souper Troopers' Caryn Gootkin

Thus was born civil society welfare group Souper Troopers that has since become a fully fledged homeless support service, operating out of an office in central Cape Town, called the Humanity Hub. The group is plugging a gap in the social welfare net that sees thousands of people living on the streets, unable to access shelters. Cape Town has an estimated 14,000 homeless, but only about 3,000 shelter beds.

A charity drive that started as free sandwiches now offers help with employment, home affairs applications, family reunification and shelter options. Souper Troopers even helps its clients with clothes for job interviews, haircuts, toiletries and shower facilities, all made possible thanks to donor funding and collaboration with other welfare groups.

“It’s a team effort,” said the organisation’s Caryn Gootkin. “There are very few places in the city where homeless people are welcome. We have created such a space.”

The hub also offers a library and play area for children, and a two-day-a-week consultation service with fieldworker Tasneem Hoosain-Fielies, a former homeless person. “Every individual is like an onion — you reveal more as you peel the layers. And gradually you are not crying that much because you are starting to solve the problems,” said Hoosain-Fielies, who conducted 125 consultations last month.

The group has seen a huge influx of homeless people onto the streets since Covid-19 struck. It is now looking for larger premises to accommodate more clients.

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