Maverick Citizen


Leading operator in Cape Town’s multimillion-rand homelessness industry is accused of failing at its core objectives

Leading operator in Cape Town’s multimillion-rand homelessness industry is accused of failing at its core objectives
Fundi Hlobo has been sleeping with friends in a structure near Helen Suzman Boulevard, Sea Point, Cape Town. She explains that her tent-mates are men and that she doesn’t feel quite safe. Life has taught Hlobo to trust only herself and god. (Photo: Biénne Huisman)

Red flags are being raised in Cape Town’s homelessness sector, with some saying ‘the business of homelessness’ is booming while the city’s destitute remain on the streets.

One of the larger operators, non-government organisation The Haven, runs 15 shelters in the Western Cape, 11 of which are in Cape Town with a total of 785 beds, according to its annual report. “The Haven — more than a bed! Helping homeless adults end their homelessness,” reads its motto. 

However, several sources in the sector say The Haven is failing at its core objective of providing dignified accommodation to homeless people, and in providing the lift-up required for destitute people to reintegrate into society. This is despite receiving tens of millions of rands in public funding and donations. Further allegations include greed and meals “fit for pigs”, while luxury food items like roast beef and nuts, donated by Woolworths, are allegedly taken home by staff. 

Meanwhile, organs of state channelling public cash to The Haven — amid promises of “giving dignity” — are vague on how the spending of such funds is “examined” and “monitored”. All this happens within a legal twilight zone, as there is no legislation governing the management of homeless shelters. 

A man who has lived on pavements around Green Point for the past 10 years — the same area as The Haven’s main shelter in Napier Street — tells Maverick Citizen he prefers sleeping outside to staying at The Haven, claiming that The Haven never has beds available, and that he found snails in his food there. 

Daily Maverick called The Haven in Napier Street, asking to be shown around. The person who answered the phone agreed and said we could come. But upon arriving, The Haven’s CEO, Hassan Khan, denied us access. He declined to discuss the issues raised, before getting into a silver Honda SUV and driving off. 

Khan did respond to emailed questions though, providing audited financial statements which show that The Haven earned R36.6-million in the past year. This includes R17-million from the Department of Social Development, R5-million from the City of Cape Town and R8-million in public donations. 

Now, some people are asking, where does this money go? 

The financial statements also show expenses totalling R30.4-million, including:

  • R17.6-million on “staff costs”;
  • R134,000 on “staff welfare and training”;
  • R13,000 for this past year’s AGM;
  • R294,000 on “printing, stationery and postage”;
  • R105,000 on “marketing, advertising and communications”; and
  • R35,600 on “refreshments and acknowledgements”.

Khan notes in his email reply that the R17.6-million “staff costs” (or salaries) are divided among 131 employees. He declined to disclose further particulars, such as the salaries of top management, citing the Protection of Personal Information Act.

A job for “shelter manager” at The Haven’s Moira Henderson House in Woodstock, advertised earlier this year on Facebook, stipulates a monthly salary of between R60,000 and R70,000 — which is up to R840,000 per annum. 

“It is a can of worms that needs to be opened,” says Venetia Orgill of Mitchells Plain, who runs Discover Your Power, which feeds 200 homeless people in the Company’s Garden each Thursday. 

“There’s lots of money in this, lots of money. And greed. Yes. You can quote me on that. I will tell him [Khan] to his face. They cannot do anything to me. It’s nothing but greed that makes him want to run shelters. Because I can tell you, I have seen Ubuntu [another service provider in the sector], Ubuntu gives the homeless people good food; breakfast, lunch, and supper. There’s no reason to feed them disgusting meals.” 

Orgill adds: “There’s always weirdness happening at The Haven. Every week I get one or two homeless people complaining about how certain foods [sponsored by Woolworths] get taken to cars of staff. The nice things, like the nuts and the roast beef. They say: ‘Ma, you must see the food we get at times. It’s like slop good for pigs.’ And that is really very sad. Even though they’re homeless, they’re humans, you know?” 

Responding to allegations of donated Woolworths food items being stolen by staff, Khan responds: “Theft is a dismissible offence. Clients [homeless people staying at The Haven] are encouraged to use The Haven’s client relations forms to bring any untoward behaviour, or excellent actions, to the attention of management. We investigate each complaint and, where appropriate, disciplinary action is taken to its logical conclusion.” 

Fieldworker Tasneem Hoosain-Fielies of civic group Souper Troopers, which helps homeless people in Sea Point, notes that The Haven simply has too few beds for the city’s estimated 14,000 destitute. She points out that vulnerable, broken people are being further let down in a system that sees them evicted from The Haven shelters after just three months, without them being adequately equipped to break their cycles of homelessness. 

“It’s cruel,” says Hoosain-Fielies. “It breaks a broken person down even further. The social workers at The Haven are just too busy to help homeless people in that short time. People are churned in and out of the shelters like a washing machine.” Hoosain-Fielies used to be homeless herself. 

Khan disputes this: “There is no fixed period to stay at a Haven shelter. At The Haven, the initial period of up to 30 days is regarded as a guest stay. No charge. [After that R15 a night is charged]. We wish to have the guest settled down and working with a social worker on an exit plan, based on an actionable Personal Development Plan.”

But Carlos Mesquita, a former record company boss who lived on Cape Town streets for five years, also says that homeless people are made to leave shelters after three months, adding that so-called development plans at The Haven are non-existent. 

“I mean, in my experience, the social worker, she’s available to you to make sure that you are now clean, and are able to stay at the shelter. They talk about programmes and they talk about upliftment, though. Where? There is nothing.” 

In the recent local government elections, Mesquita ran for Sea Point ward councillor for the Good party. Speaking to Maverick Citizen over Zoom from a house in Observatory, managed by the Rehoming Collective, he describes The Haven as a sheltering franchise. 

“So this is why they don’t want homelessness to go away. Of course, because they employ so many people and make so much money. If we take away homelessness, how will all these people get paid?”

At the height of lockdown, Mesquita was one of 1,500 homeless people put up in four marquees at the City of Cape Town’s Strandfontein temporary shelter, which was decommissioned following safety and human rights violation criticisms. 

“There, at tent number two,” he says. “On the day they tried to put up The Haven’s logo — the other tents’ signage were up already, they were managed by Ubuntu and Oasis. On that day, 608 homeless people stood up like one man and made sure that The Haven’s sign did not go up…” 

Fundi Hlobo, who stays in a makeshift structure off Helen Suzman Boulevard in Sea Point, shared a Strandfontein tent with Mesquita. She refers to The Haven as “that cruel establishment”.

She blames Khan for not removing the body of Archie — a man who succumbed to cold late one night in their tent — until the following afternoon. “He [Khan] is the cruellest man I’ve ever come across. He’s ruthless. The body was still there, on the floor. We were eating in this same tent,” says Hlobo. 

In response, Khan paints a picture of trying circumstances: “Our work was defined as offering social work services to help those who could reunify with family or reintegrate within the community; 230 persons were helped in this way within two weeks of arrival. 

“In addition, we were responsible for organising meals and recreation. We went further and provided clothing, blankets and even some camp mattresses brought from our homes and collected from the community. This we did with three days’ notice under severe lockdown conditions, while the facility was under construction.”

He adds that on learning of the man’s death, they “ensured the body was appropriately covered and that a reasonable space was cleared around the deceased” while waiting for a City of Cape Town service provider.

“The option of moving the person was not available to us as it would have been illegal,” he says. 

Mesquita further says that a paternalistic approach at The Haven sees adult homeless people treated like children. 

“Beside all the things at The Haven that people complain about, there are all the rules. For example, you can’t go there if you’re a couple or if you’re a family. There are male dorms and female dormitories. Then there are the curfews. You have to be in at 6pm; you have to get out at 6am or 7am. You cannot live your life because, I mean, you can’t do things that people normally do.” 

Another source, Isa Jacobson, a filmmaker with an interest in social justice, points out: “What if a homeless person needs to hold an evening job, like waitering, past 6pm?” 

Mesquita adds: “It’s one hell of a place. And I don’t mean that in a good way. So homeless people would rather be on the streets. And to be honest with you, if I have to end up back in homelessness tomorrow, I would rather be on the streets of Sea Point than in a shelter like The Haven.”

Meanwhile, The Haven is a major beneficiary of the City of Cape Town’s Give Dignity campaign. 

An official Give Dignity video implores: “What if your donation could go further? In the right hands, it’s a nutritious meal, a warm blanket, toiletries and clean clothes. Giving dignity and a safe night’s sleep. So they can have a fresh start and meet with a social worker to get their lives back on track. Get them off the streets and back home.”

The campaign invites a caring public to donate money via a Snapscan QR code. When scanned, the QR code leads directly to The Haven’s Snapscan account. 

When asked whether The Haven is the campaign’s sole beneficiary due to the Snapscan redirection, City of Cape Town spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo responded: “No, it is not. The Haven was used to house any funds received, as they already had an account set up with Snapscan. A committee, chaired by the city, consisting of various shelters, will agree on how the funds in this account will be distributed.” 

When asked about The Haven’s expenses last year (as listed above) Tyhalibongo infers that this is not the city’s responsibility. 

He says: “The Haven is an independent non-governmental organisation. The city’s role in the management of funds at the Haven is limited to funding disbursed by the city to the organisation through its Grant-in-Aid (GIA) programme. This includes monitoring the spending of the funds, examining expenditure reports, daily attendance and programmes offered to those in the beds for which funding is provided through the GIA.” 

Despite follow-up questions, it remains unclear which of The Haven’s expenses are being “monitored” or “examined” by the city, and to what extent. 

Maverick Citizen asked the Western Cape’s Department of Social Development (DSD) how funds allocated to The Haven — and outcomes at the organisation — are monitored. 

Joshua Chigome, spokesperson for Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez, replied: “All 15 Haven shelters report quarterly to the department as per their contractual obligation. The report includes income and expenditure of only the funds provided by DSD — not donor funds.” 

When asked whether expenses at The Haven might be excessive for an organisation accused of failing at its core objective, he responded: “R17-million is allocated for the salaries of a social worker and a social auxiliary worker per shelter. Additionally, two social work supervisor posts are funded by DSD to supervise the work of the above social workers. 

“DSD subsidises the bed spaces for a person per night. DSD funds are also used for the reunification cost of a homeless person if they wish to be reunited with their family. The balance of the expenses will be funded by donors and the public.” 

Chigome acknowledges that there is no legislation governing homeless shelters: “In the absence of legislation governing homeless shelters, DSD has developed a framework for norms and standards and this is also used to measure outcomes.” 

He adds that: “Specific cases of bad meals or absence of PDP [personal development plans] can be reported to DSD to follow up and investigate.” 

Homelessness is a complex issue, exacerbated in South Africa by historical divides and apartheid spatial planning. Calls on homeless people to simply go “home” are disingenuous.

A man who heads a reputable services company in the homelessness sector, who did not want to be named, tells Daily Maverick that while The Haven gets the lion’s share of public funding, smaller organisations such as his have to struggle. 

“So in donations, people just give to the big guns like The Haven, they don’t give a damn about the smaller organisations.” 

The man adds that while he respects Khan as a person, Khan’s public association with Freedom Front Plus councillor Paul Jacobson is “nonsense” and a big mistake. 

Jacobson has been accused of being “anti-homeless”, following interviews, such as the one aired on Cape Talk in October 2020, where he accused homeless people in Sea Point “of masturbating in the driveway to the McDonald’s”, of depositing “10,000kg of human faeces on our streets and public spaces” and of “urinating on children”.

On 18 October, in the run-up to the elections, Jacobson posted a video featuring himself and Khan, on his official Facebook page. Standing on a pavement in front of a makeshift structure, Khan gestures to Jacobson, saying: “I’ve come to know Paul as a fighter for human rights, for dignity… I support Paul, I hope you do too.” 

Mesquita describes the video as “disgusting”. “I mean, people can’t believe this. How Hassan Khan can actually look anybody in the face at the moment. He’s supposed to be looking after homeless people. And now he’s endorsed the person who hates homeless people?” 

When asked about his allegiance to Jacobson, Khan responded: “Allegiance is a rather strong word. My personal view coincides with [Jacobson’s] views on encouraging homeless persons to end their homelessness.” 

Elaborating via voice note, Jacobson countered claims that he is anti-homeless. He told Daily Maverick that he respects Khan as an “ambassador for the homeless” and that he often attends meetings at The Haven in Napier Street. 

Jacobson further told Daily Maverick that instead of living on city streets, destitute people should be reunited with their families or accommodated at shelters. 

When asked about the obvious lack of bed space at shelters, Jacobson said: “Depending on which organisation you talk to, there are between 1,500 and 2,500 beds available in the broader Western Cape.” 

He added that, “Just because there are 14,000 homeless, that doesn’t mean 2,500 people cannot be sorted out first — their souls saved, and then the city should be held accountable.” 

Meanwhile, Chigome of the DSD says shelter bed space is determined by the city. “The number of bed spaces are determined by municipal by-laws with regards to health and safety and occupancy. DSD does not determine the number of bed spaces.” 

Homelessness is a complex issue, exacerbated in South Africa by historical divides and apartheid spatial planning. Calls on homeless people to simply go “home” are disingenuous. Hoosain-Fielies points out that “many of these people can’t just go ‘home’. Often their problems started at home — substance abuse, gender-based violence, whatever.” 

She notes that many people end up on the street because of mental illness. 

“Mental health and getting a job is even difficult for people with houses,” she says. “Now imagine living on the street, and having to deal with all of that. Getting a job often requires having a fixed address and identity documents.” 

Hoosain-Fielies says Souper Troopers helps homeless people obtain ID documents. “We stand with them there in the line at Home Affairs. We chat to them and get to know them, show them that they are valued and that they can trust us.” 

An unsympathetic public perception that people might be homeless due to personal failings like “laziness” or a lack of motivation should be strongly condemned, says Dr Vinothan Naidoo, of the University of Cape Town’s Department of Political Studies. 

“The condition of being ‘homeless’ is neither simple, reducible to personal failings, or unidimensional,” he says. 

“The ‘homeless’ — meaning those who sleep rough in open-air outdoor spaces — actually represent a complex constituency, some of whom have effectively become detached from society due to having experienced psycho-social traumas, mental illnesses, family disintegration and abuse. 

“There are also homeless persons who are more transient in that they maintain links with fixed informal dwellings yet are driven to urban areas in search of employment and income. 

“I also think that this can help explain the resistance that is sometimes attributed to homeless people to accept help, shelter, etc. It may appear constraining to them, especially when they have become conditioned to being policed and harassed by law enforcement authorities and neighbourhood watch bodies.” 

Naidoo adds that while he cannot comment on The Haven per se, his research indicates that “concerns about the operation of shelters for the homeless are not new. I mentioned in a published paper previous cases of non-governmental shelter operators who apply for state funding, mismanaging and profiting from this service, dating back to 2005. This highlights the hazards of an outsourced supply-driven approach to the problem.”

In an email exchange with Maverick Citizen, Khan repeatedly asked this journalist what is being used as a benchmark. “Who are you benchmarking The Haven against?” he wrote.

Perhaps this is precisely the problem. That there is no benchmark — fertile ground for bureaucratic complacency and shirked accountability, while the public bankrolls causes with questionable integrity and vulnerable people continue to fall through the cracks. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    It’s realities like these that make me wonder why we give awards for positive actions rather than for negative ones. There could be a seismic change in attitudes within every sector if people were loudly and publicly lauded (if disparagingly) for their misdeeds.

  • Robert Mckay says:

    Homelessness is very complex but what struck me was the salary of the manager. In the US you will earn about $45 000 as a manager on the West Coast…San Francisco, Seattle, Olympia, and that is R720 000….about R100 000 lower than what you earn managing a Haven shelter. Managers of shelters have a socially complex and stressful job but I wonder how their salary can be higher than their US counterparts when the cost of living in Cape Town is far less than San Francisco’s.

  • Dylan Barsby says:

    Over some years I had conversations with various homeless people in CT, asking them what, if any, visibility there was from the CoCT official partner orgs that were meant to be rehabilitating them. I didn’t want to just blindly donate when I didn’t know where the money would actually go. The answers were always that there was little to no visibility or opportunity. I heard from them about how all the better items and foods donated to shelters would be stolen by the staff, with the dregs left for the homeless people. I’ve also heard stories about how Hassan Khan’s Haven shelters are a racket and he’s become wealthy through this.

    The homelessness in Cape Town is an embarrassing failure at best. I would love to see this problem tackled by a transparent, ethical organisation with a holistic approach.

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