Huddled with her partner Johan in their cardboard and plastic shack behind the Belville market, Sanna Hartnick mixes brandy with Smirnoff Ice. The winter wind whirls and howls but little by little Sanna feels less cold and less stressed. By Shireen Mukadam for GROUNDUP.
Eventually she stops feeling anything at all. Until the next morning, when she wakes up to find Law Enforcement officers patrolling the area. They take her blankets and clothes.
For years, Sanna thought life on the street was her best option. “Die beste vir jou is om op die straat te wees. Jy kan alles kry,” [The best for you is to be on the street. You can get everything]” she used to say.
Born in Somerset East on the fringes of the Karoo in the Eastern Cape, Sanna was the second youngest of five children. Her father died when she was five, and her mother, a domestic worker, received social grant money. “She drank most of the money,” says Sanna.
Sanna left school in standard two (grade four). When she was 13, she went to live with her grandmother in Middelburg. Her granny told her she could not send her to school because there was no money.
One day, a big white car arrived. A man got out, with his wife and their two children in tow. They offered Sanna a job and brought her to Cape Town where she did the family’s housework, earning R400 a month.
She was just 14 years old. It was the beginning of a series of domestic worker jobs, which came to an end when she was dismissed from work by her Durbanville employer for being drunk on duty.
At 25, Sanna was out on the streets.
At first, she found life on the streets fun, she says. “I didn’t have to pay rent or electricity. Everything was free. One second you have no money, the next you’ve got.”
She sold anything she could get her hands on – food, clothes, newspaper, plastic – to buy alcohol.
If she needed toiletries such as deodorant or sanitary pads, her friends stole them for her from the storerooms of shops. One person would stand outside and keep watch, while the others went in, grabbed whatever they could get their hands on, and ran.
“I was scared, but I had to drink. It’s like my body needed it,” says Sanna.
But one Friday she got into a fight. When a woman pushed her friend, Sanna punched the woman’s eyes. The cops arrived later that night and she was taken away and locked up in a cell in Bellville jail for the weekend.
“Alcohol causes violence. When you are drunk, you just want to fight,” she says.
In jail Sanna shared a cell with 18 other women. They ate bread, jam and coffee for breakfast and soup and bread for lunch and dinner. On Sunday there was a piece of chicken and two spoons of rice.
“Jail was cool. I made friends,” says Sanna.
She was released back onto the streets on Monday.
Sanna realised alcohol was taking over her life and decided to stop. But each time she would start again, because of the stress on the streets. “In winter it rains. You get wet.
“You sleep in the rain. You get sick. You don’t go to a doctor. You don’t care.”
The more pain she felt, the more she drank.
One day, Johan asked why she hadn’t been getting her period. They hadn’t used condoms. The next day, he went with her to a day-clinic in Bellville.
She found that she was four months pregnant. Sanna cried. She didn’t want a baby; she was living on the streets. Johan and her friends told her not to drink, but their pleas just made her angry. “Who cares?” she said.
One day she was sitting and drinking a beer at the Bellville market, when she felt the baby kicking. An old woman sitting next to her said that if Sanna was drinking, the baby was also drinking. That was the day Sanna realised she had to stop. She was eight months pregnant.
After her baby was born at Tygerberg hospital, Sanna and her daughter were referred by a church to St. Anne’s Home in Woodstock. Sanna underwent rehabilitation and parenting skills training and in 2010 she found employment as a domestic worker, making her eligible for a transitional housing assistance programme run by St Anne’s that supports semi-independent living and facilitates reintegration back into the community.
When her lease expired from third-stage housing provided by St. Anne’s in Ruyterwacht and it was time to leave, Sanna had nowhere to go.
Joy Lange, Director of St. Anne’s, says Sanna applied for housing through Communicare, one of the social housing providers of the City of Cape Town, but though she met the criteria, there was no accommodation available.
Because Sanna earns less than R3,000 a month and was previously homeless, she falls into the category of a “vulnerable woman” and is therefore eligible for Special Needs Housing. This is designed to help vulnerable groups such as orphans, the seriously ill, those with disabilities, victims of domestic abuse, the homeless, those under substance rehabilitation and parolees, ex offenders and juveniles offenders who require special group care.
The Constitution provides that everyone has the right to access adequate housing and in terms of the Housing Act of 1997 says “national, provincial and local spheres of government must…promote the meeting of special needs housing”.
But, says Gladys Mukundi of the Community Law Centre, in the Western Cape there is no coherent policy framework or consistent funding for organisations that provide special needs housing. And the problem is worsened by the lack of clear directives from the national Department of Human Settlements.
Liesl du Plessis of Project Preparation Trust (PPT) says while there is recognition from national government of the need for special needs housing, there is no acknowledgement of who is responsible for its provision.
So the homeless, those recovering from substance addiction, and abused women who have been through shelters are likely to go back to a life on the streets,.
“They are back on their feet. They can face life. But they have nowhere to go,” says Du Plessis.
According to Nathan Adriaanse of the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements, a 2009 agreement between the departments of Local Government and Housing, Education and Health dealt with group accommodation for people with special needs.
But the 2009 policy has not been implemented by any of the departments involved because of the lack of a financial instrument and institutional framework to implement the policy, says Adriaanse, and it is currently under review.
Adriaanse says his department is working with several national departments “to address this policy at a national level, where it is likely to have a greater impact, across all provinces, not only the Western Cape.”
“This process entails, firstly, an assessment of the need and types of facilities and care required. The current policy framework and legislation and the roles and responsibilities of the different government agencies will then be assessed against this need to develop an appropriate response. The Western Cape policy review will depend on the outcomes from the national process.”
Meanwhile Sanna lives with her five-year-old daughter Nikki in a R300-a-month wendy house in a Kuils River backyard, in a street rife with drug dealers, tik users and violence.
“I can’t rent or buy a house, it’s too expensive,” she says.
“I don’t want to go back to living on the streets. The streets destroy your life.” DM
This feature was first published on www.groundup.org.za
Photo: Sanna Hartnick and her daughter Nikki at St Anne’s. After years on the street, she is hoping for a house. Photo by Shireen Mukadam.
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