Happy Valley: where people get their lives back on track

Shelter treats homeless people with dignity

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Photo of location of Happy Valley
Happy Valley is a shelter in Simon’s Town hosting about 65 residents.

Happy Valley, a homeless shelter in the picturesque suburb of Simon’s Town, Cape Town, is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The shelter was established in 1996 in a former weapon arsenal by a joint effort of the magistrate of Simon’s Town and the surrounding churches as a primary stepping stone for homeless adults by providing accommodation and food in return of a small monthly fee of R650.

About 65 people refer to Happy Valley as their home for a time period of six months after which residents who are not staff are supposed to move out.

Residents are ‘a very mixed bunch of people’ says Happy Valley manager, ‘Cindy’ Cynthia Ann Dollery. Some struggle to get out of the shelter cycle, while others manage to turn their lives around.
The interaction between men and women is limited to casual encounters on the premises and during meal times. Men live higher up the mountain where women are not allowed.

The manager, Cynthia Ann Dollery, and her staff, make an effort to supply the residents with the rehabilitation they need and possible employment. The aim is to reunify them with their families.

But it is not easy. Some residents require health or psychiatric care which she cannot offer and others do not own an ID book. It is a “big problem, [because] without an ID you cannot find work”, says Dollery.

Jennifer Fairchild is trying to get her life on track.

“I have had a hard life and my trauma therapist tells me how broken I am, which upsets me. But I need therapy because of what I have been through in life,” says one of the residents, Jennifer Fairchild, 49, from Fish Hoek.

She successfully graduated with several degrees and worked as a sworn translator for the Supreme Court of South Africa until her health worsened and one painful experience after the other led her to the shelter. In 2015 her landlord evicted her. After that her world fell apart leaving her with no job, no money, bad health and a nicotine addiction.

Most of the 65 residents in Happy Valley experienced different factors which drove them onto the streets. Some of the most common ones are family dysfunction, financial crisis, mental and physical health issues, social disintegration and criminal affiliation.

Radha Nair, 64, is the kitchen chef. She is one of the longest residents, having stayed at Happy Valley for four years, She is waiting for her own bachelor flat to be built. She quite cigarettes and alcohol in 2015.
Sarel Muller, 60, a former truck driver from Mossel Bay, has been a frequent churchgoer since a young age. He says it was his choice to move into a shelter to arrange everything for his new home: a caravan stationed in Lakeside.

A 2008 Human Science Research Council study estimated that 100,000 to 200,000 South Africans are homeless.

Trevor Heuvel, 60, moved to Happy Valley in June 2016. He says that when his parents died his siblings ran away with the money, leaving him with nothing.

Dollery says Happy Valley accommodates a “very mixed bunch of people”. For some of the 23 to 75-year-old residents it is the first time living in a shelter while others have lived on the streets or in shelters before.

“Some of the residents look so neat that visitors do not believe that it is a shelter,” says a volunteer.

Colin Matheson, 70, tried to make the buildings more appealing but the old weapon arsenal is a listed monument and so its appearance cannot be changed. He says he is ‘happy here’ nevertheless.
Christine Solomons, 58, says, “I miss my grandchildren so much.” One of them, ‘Bliksem’, passed away young so Christine decided to tattoo her name in memory.

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