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Mobile showers help homeless
Nina Manzi (mother of water) – a mobile shower and an ablution facility servicing homeless people went into full operation recently in Cape Town. The bus offers 15-minute hot showers in exchange for vouchers earned through programmes run by an organisation called U-Turn. People living on the streets of the city struggle to access decent washing and toilet facilities.
WORDS AND IMAGES: ASHRAF HENDRICKS PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY ON WWW.GROUNDUP.CO.ZA
Cape Town recently welcomed South Africa’s first ‘wash bus’ for the homeless, Nina Manzi. The colourful bus has four hot water showers and four toilets divided for male and female use. There is a 15-minute limit per person and users are given soap, a towel, a face cloth and skin cream The project is a collaboration between Viva Con Agua, U-Turn and Baz-Art.
Although mobile, the bus requires connections to water, sewage and electricity. Sisanda Henda, who works for Viva Con Agua and is the Project Manager of Nina Manzi, said they wanted to find a way to assist people living on the streets.
When they launched the pilot project in July, she says one user hadn’t washed in two months. “Getting a shower was part of his journey of restoring himself,” says Sisanda.
She explains that some people are unsure of how to use a shower or do not know that red means hot on faucets.
“They get cleansed, they get nurtured, their dignity gets restored and they feel whole again.” Sisanda says she has seen a number of people use the service before going for job interviews.
The name, Nina Manzi, meaning ‘mother of water’, came out of a workshop on water, hygiene and sanitation held in the rural Eastern Cape. Children had to create ‘water heroes’, and one of them came up with the winning name.
We spoke to one of the first users of the wash bus. She has been homeless since November 2021 and was staying in a shelter where there was no hot water.
“It’s such a mission to clean yourself out of a bucket,” she says.
She adds that the mobile service is “fantastic” and that she feels “refreshed and ready to go” afterwards. She tries to use the service three times a week.
Another woman, who has been homeless for 30 years, says living on the streets, she usually takes a crate, puts a black bag in it and washes herself that way. She has found the washing experience on the bus to be very emotional. “I just cried underneath the water,” she says.
The bus operates in collaboration with U-Turn, an organisation working with people who are homeless. It provides a safe location, electricity and access to water for the bus. Those wishing to use the wash service need to have a U-Turn voucher. These vouchers are earned by cleaning the streets through U-Turn or given as donations. Raymond Bowman, Manager of the U-Turn Claremont service centre, says that the voucher system gives people the feeling they have earned it, rather than a “hand-out and a hand down”.
Vouchers can also be used for hot meals, clothing or blankets. The Nina Manzi project employs two workers clean and do basic maintenance on the bus. Both of them were previously part of U-Turn programmes. Recently, the project moved into the mobile phase, docking at the U-Turn service space in Muizenberg and then at Mitchells Plain.