A social worker’s views on giving money to people at robots sparked great debate on social media last week.
Lucinda Valentine, a social worker and managing director of GiveWise Foundation, a company she created to analyse and evaluate social service systems, posted a video online talking about an incident she saw at the robots in Tyger Valley.
In the video she says: “To the person who gave a R10 to the person at the robot now at Tyger Valley, I know you’re trying to help but you could be enabling that person to use that money to drink or buy alcohol.”
The video was posted on her Facebook timeline in November last year but was shared many times in the past couple of weeks and also landed on the Bothasig Neighbourhood Watch (BNW) page. It sparked conversation on the BNW Facebook page, with some bashing Ms Valentine for how “unprofessional” she was being for posting something like that.
Some could not argue with the points she made, however, saying that often people wanted to do good things by giving selflessly, but sometimes it did more harm than good.
The big issue seemed to be that Ms Valentine mentioned that the person begging at these robots was a woman pushing a pram with a baby. “The person who gave the R10 to the woman could see that the she had a baby with her and of course that might have played a role in the person actually giving the money but people need to be more conscious and think about why they are giving,” she said.
She went on to say that some people give just to get rid of the guilt they have and some give because they are genuinely kind-hearted. The message she wants to convey is that it is better to donate money to an organisation working to help the homeless, which would be more constructive than the former.
Toni Tresadern, a community worker who often works with the homeless, said she understood both sides of the argument – the people begging (from a desperation point of view) and the people who see donations going to these folk as enabling their behaviour and also worrying about more and more people begging at robots.
She said she was worried about “baby for hire” occurrences – where people used other people’s children for begging – or using their own children for begging, as happened in so many cases. “But I am more worried that social services do not have any permanent solution to these problems.
“It is all very well for a social worker to say we should not feed and assist people at robots, but what are they doing with these very poor and often uneducated folk to assist them to perhaps get birth certificates, IDs, South African Social Security Agency grants, social distress relief, skills training and so on?,” she said.
She added that the City of Cape Town had a social development department that was supposed to offer intervention and interact with these folk but she was yet to come across one of their staff members in Bothasig or Edgemead and had certainly never heard of anybody who had been helped.
JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said the City’s social development and early childhood development department, via its Street People Reintegration Unit, reached out to street people across the city, including children who were referred to the provincial government as the custodians of all children.
“In many cases, however, we find that the street people are not willing to accept social services offered as they are receiving support from residents, businesses and tourists through handouts that encourages them to remain on the street,” he said.
While the woman begging at the robots at Tyger Valley had been seen by some residents in Table View, Tabletalk was unable to find her. However, we spoke to a blind man who begs at the robots on the corner of Raats Drive and Blaauwberg Road near Bayside Mall. The man did not want his name to be mentioned in the paper but explained that it was often not someone’s choice to go and beg at the robots and that often they were victims of circumstances.
“In cases like mine (disabled people), it becomes extra difficult to find jobs. It is not that we don’t want to work. The problem is, some jobs need certain skills and if we could just be offered these particular set of skills, we would be able to help ourselves and not have to depend on begging in the streets,” said the 35-year-old.
Clive Owen, chairperson of the Bothasig Ratepayers’ Association, said although their organisation had not discussed this matter, he was inclined to lean towards the views of Ms Valentine.
“As far as I recall, concerned residents of Bothasig or any other residents for that matter, if they want to assist homeless people, can purchase food vouchers at certain Pick * Pay stores, which can be redeemed by such homeless persons, but only for food, no alcohol or cigarettes. I appeal to other large retail outlets to do likewise, assuming they do not already offer such services,” said Mr Owen.