Building new lives at The Carpenter’s Shop

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Anyone standing on Roeland St in Cape Town, looking across at the unprepossessing building of The Carpenter’s Shop would be forgiven for thinking that nothing much goes on there. But if they took the time to ask some of the people who have passed through its doors, they’d soon discover that it is a place where hope lives and lives are transformed.

Behind the steel gates is a hive of activity. There is a hair salon, car valet, panel beaters, a workshop where bottles are transformed into drinking glasses and, of course, a carpenter’s shop where the unemployed are given new skills as well as new lives.

And in the midst of it all is a tranquil oasis, a second phase housing facility where 40 single people who are almost ready to move back into society are able to rent rooms for a minimum period of six months. After the six months they are assessed to see if they are ready to move on.

“Our main focus is to reintegrate the homeless back into the community and to reunite them with their families,” said Delene Roberts, Coordinator of The Carpenter’s Shop.
The Carpenter’s Shop was founded 29 years ago, and some of the founding members are still serving on the steering committee.

The Carpenter’s Shop has the services of a full time social worker, Phoccia Titus, who assesses anyone who comes to the facility, and also provides valuable support and counselling services.

The three week basic carpentry course is approved by the Department of Education, but fully funded by The Carpenter’s Shop which also supplies a hot meal to the students on the course as well as people working in the other workshops or making use of the facilities.

“Our success rates are very good,” Roberts said. “We find that many of the people who have been here go on to find their own accommodation and work. Of course, there is always the odd one who goes back on the streets or into a shelter, but they are the exception.”

Roberts is emphatic about not giving money to people on the streets. “You are not actually helping, you are feeding their lifestyle,” she said. “It is far better to give to the organisations that are making a difference, because we really rely on donations in order to survive.”

People are often quick to judge the street people but all you need to do is to have a discussion with any one of them and you’ll find out that most have gone through at least one life-altering event that has resulted in them losing everything.

Clive Manuel has experienced “total despair of life on the street” after his relationship with his girlfriend broke down and he lost his job. He came to The Carpenter’s Shop in June 2007, after recovering from a serious assault by someone who caught him sleeping in his car. Now, three years later he has turned his life around. He no longer drinks and has a full time job at LifeLine.

Manuel has advice for people who feel guilty or obliged to give money to people on the streets. “Don’t do it!” he said. “It is true that many people will use that money to buy alchohol. When you are sleeping on the streets you need to drink if you want to sleep, but all that happens is that you end up with even more problems. It is far better to support organisations like this one that help us to change our lives completely. “The Carpenter’s Shop has been very good to me. They helped me to believe that there is something for me in this life. I am not ashamed of where I have come from. There is a reason for everything in life.

“You must not fall down, you must focus on what you have learned and use it to lift yourself up,” he said. “I have found my self respect again.”

Lesley Ann, who now has a job in the Carpenter’s Shop kitchen, ended up on the streets after escaping an abusive relationship, which has left her unable to walk easily. She was hit so often in her face that the roots of her teeth broke through into her sinuses, a condition that still causes her pain.

“I chose to live on the streets because I knew I had to leave that man. It was a choice that saved my life, but I went through deep embarrassment as a result. I didn’t want to tell my family that I had been abused.”

Her deep faith in God has helped her to find meaning in what happened to her. Like many of the people who have turned their lives around, she has a heart for helping others. Her dream is to provide a facility for people who are terminally ill and homeless because “no one should die alone, on the streets”.

“I had to learn what it is to be destitute in order to be lifted up,” she said.

“A lot of people think that because you are homeless you have a thick skin. But I am a person just like you, with feelings that can be hurt. People should ask themselves ‘what if this happened to you?’ How would you cope?” she said.

Lesley Ann also credits the Carpenter’s Shop with helping her to turn her life around.

“I am not drinking and I have learned to manage with what little money I earn,” she said. “I hope one day to get a good job and to be able to rent a place of my own but my dearest wish is to be able to help the dying destitute. I don’t know how it will happen, but I have big dreams for the future.”

The Carpenter’s Shop is one of the organisations which are being promoted as part of the Cape Town Partnership’s Give Responsibly Campaign.

“Often the giving of money or food is an emotional response,” said Pat Eddy, Social Development Manager for CCID. “If you have just had a good night out and you are approached by someone, it is easy to hand over even quite large amounts of money.

“The Give Responsibly campaign encourages people to go beyond that kind of knee-jerk reaction and support organisations that are helping destitute people to change their lives.”

“The Carpenter Shop is a significant partner in finding sustainable solutions, as this organisation immediately encourages the individual to move off the street when they enter their skills training programmes. We, together with many of our partners, believe that it is often only once an individual has moved off the streets that you can genuinely assist him and make a meaningful difference in his life,” Eddy said.

For further information contact Pat Eddy at 021 419 1881 or email pat@capetowncid.co.za

The Carpenter’s Shop is at www.tcs.org.za or email info@tcs.org.za or phone 021 461 5508 for more information or to enquire about the furniture restoration and other services on offer.

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  1. June Lehmensich says

    This is wonderful the manner in which peoples lives being transformed.

    Great work.



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