How did a teacher and a graphic designer become ‘parents’ to a group of men who were once homeless, addicted or involved in gangsterism? How does this refresh them and why do they say it’s important to share their own struggles with the guys? BRANDON and CANDICE SOLOMON told NANINE STEENKAMP
Twenty-somethings Candice and Brandon are energised by the breakthroughs that come from looking after a household of formerly homeless men | Photos: Ronelle de Villiers
Graphic designer Brandon (28) grew up in Lavender Hill, attended Muizenberg High School and lived in Muizenberg. His wife Candice (29) is a primary school teacher who grew up in Cafda. They’re expecting their first baby in August 2021
How did you start helping homeless people? BRANDON: It just didn’t feel right that we had food to eat and got to go home every day while other people didn’t. We started reaching out, handing out clothes and food to people on the street and getting to know them.
How did things get formalised? BRANDON: I was working at U-turn Homeless Ministries as a graphic designer and heard quite late that it was looking for house parents for a new home. Candice encouraged me to apply, saying I was made for the position and U-turn postponed the deadline by a day so that I could apply.
When I was offered the job, I felt inadequate, unqualified and incapable, but I’ve realised you can never be perfectly qualified when working with people. It’s more important to be willing and available.
Christ Church in Cape Town’s Kenilworth could command a top rental for this beautiful home but has opted instead to make it available to U-turn Homeless Minstries free of charge for five years. It’s now been renamed ‘U-turn Church House’ | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
‘When I was offered the job, I felt inadequate, unqualified and incapable, but I’ve realised you can never be perfectly qualified when working with people,’ says Brandon. However, the couple has discovered that sharing their own challenges in life with their housemates helps create authentic relationships with them. ‘If we make mistakes, we make a joke about it. Humility is the key,’ he says | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Where and what is U-turn Church House? BRANDON: It’s a beautiful Victorian house belonging to a church called Christ Church, Kenilworth. This church opted to make the house available to the community. It received many applications but offered a free five-year lease to U-turn because it has a 20-year track record of helping people on the streets. Initially, people in the Kenilworth community were against the establishment of the house. But after hearing the stories of U-turn graduates and how far they’ve come in life to the point of being store managers and helping others come off the street, their point of view transformed.
Typical week in the house? BRANDON: Candice and I are responsible for a number of household duties and activities, including food, some house maintenance and other admin involved in caring for our ‘champs’ or house members. The champs work at U-turn charity shops daily from Monday to Saturday, and all have responsibilities in the kitchen, garden and household. We consider all champs to be family members. They pay rent for their accommodation and learn budgeting and time management skills.
Every champ also works with a U-turn occupational therapist and counsellor as they walk towards recovery and independence. On Tuesday evenings we have Bible study, and on ‘Takeover Thursday’ the champs take turns to run sessions where they teach us, for instance telling us their life stories. Every weekend, house manager Emmanuel Vuma takes over the household so that Candice and I can have a break.
Candice and Brandon are responsible for food and other admin involved in caring for the residents of the home, otherwise known as ‘champs’. Says Brandon: ‘We consider all champs to be family members. ‘They all have responsibilities in the kitchen, garden and household. They pay rent for their accommodation, and learn budgeting and time management skills.’
WE DON’T COMPLAIN ANY MORE ABOUT THE LITTLE THINGS: MEET ‘PARENTS’ TO THE HOMELESS, CANDICE AND BRANDON
Your greatest challenges as house parents? CANDICE: My biggest fear was becoming burnt out. As a wife and teacher already, I was afraid this was going to be too much. But instead, I feel refreshed to see what is happening with the guys and I admire their courage. I wish more people could see it!
BRANDON: I grew up in a community where you can easily get a knife in your face, so I’m used to challenges, but this kind of job can still give you doubts. On the days that I doubt, I remind myself of all the things that have aligned so this could happen, and this reassures me that God is in it.
Greatest joys? CANDICE: Breakthrough moments make me so happy. I never knew I had this much compassion! For example, one of the guys didn’t want to share his story or be in pictures. Recently, he asked for his picture to be taken. The liberty in that was so beautiful for me, it makes me want to cry right now!
BRANDON: We try to bless the guys but are blessed so much more ourselves. I’m particularly encouraged when they grow and are hungry to learn. The other day, we were taking out the rubbish bins and one of the champs started a conversation with a guy on the street to encourage him. I rejoice in those moments and I tell them, ‘You can do so much more than me because you come from that place yourself!’
‘We’d love to see people’s perceptions of homeless people change,’ says Brandon. ‘If every family could just welcome one person on the street, help with some clothes, feed him or her, it would make a big difference.’ Says Candice: ‘I was afraid this was going to be too much. Instead, I feel refreshed’ | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Key thing you’ve learnt? BRANDON: To make your relationship authentic, share your own struggles. Humility is the key. If we make mistakes, we make a joke about it. Like the champs, we too have lost things such as a nice car in an accident and plans to buy a house in Muizenberg that we had to give up. We were heartbroken at the time. Now I just want to give up more!
Hard stuff? BRANDON: Inevitably, there are disagreements because of pride and arrogance and people being used to helping themselves. Influences from the past still cause conflict. Some of our champs develop mental illnesses from drug abuse or trauma, such as schizophrenia. We refer them for special care and relocation to the hospital if necessary.
CANDICE: We face similar challenges to those that every parent would face: the only difference is that our ‘children’ are older than us! Sometimes you don’t have answers or the ability to change anything, you can just be there for our guys.
Your future hopes and dreams? BRANDON: Our heart is to see many houses like this one. If every family could just welcome one person on the street, help with some clothes, feed him or her, it would make a big difference. We’d love to see perceptions changing of these vulnerable people. There is enormous potential on the streets. Homeless doesn’t mean hopeless, and even people who are viewed by themselves or others as broken and messed up still have value.’
Rev Rob Taylor of Christ Church, Kenilworth, the church that has given U-turn a free five-year lease: ‘We’re really encouraged to see how the U-turn community has settled into the house, giving practical expression to our vision of it as a place of redemptive community. This is what Jesus modelled. Our church members are looking forward to forging strong links with the U-turn residents.’
I FEEL THAT I’M GOING SOMEWHERE: MEET U-TURN CHAMP, FRANKLIN MEYER
Franklin Meyer (33) is a member of U-turn’s Life Change programme, the final phase before going independent, and is currently employed at a U-turn charity clothing store. He lived with his sisters in an orphanage from the age of 6 to 13, then was selected to study at a boarding school in Swaziland. In time, news that his sisters back in South Africa were not doing well made him very anxious and led him to smoke marijuana. He was expelled from school and ended up living under a bridge in Cape Town. A friend told him about the U-turn programme and, two years on, he’s about to complete it. ‘I’m thankful to U-turn and determined to stay focused,’ he says
THIS HAS BEEN MY HEART’S DESIRE FOR MANY YEARS: MEET U-TURN CHAMP, WILLIAM SYCE
William Syce (27) left home at the age of 13 due to problems at home. Soon, the wrong friends led to tik (crystal methamphetamine) abuse, living on the streets and in the mountain, and regular imprisonment, After some time, he was introduced by a friend to U-turn, and he was one of the first men to reside in U-turn Church House. He currently works in one of U-turn’s stores. ‘It’s really peaceful in the house,’ he says. ‘I’ve learnt how to deal with anger and to find my inner self. My best success is finding Christ in my life. With God all things are possible.’
DID YOU KNOW?
U-turn’s phased programme creates an effective pathway to employment for vulnerable men and women, with 80% of its graduates remaining employed and sober. It starts with basic needs (for food and clothing), goes on to drug and alcohol rehabilitation support, and finally culminates in the Life Change programme which offers sheltered employment, a learnership and training. Life Change lasts two years on average, and people graduate by securing permanent employment in the open labour market
U-turn Church House currently hosts 12 champs, all of them male. Plans for renovations are underway to accommodate eight more, and U-turn is hoping to extend the facilities to a female section
U-turn Homeless Ministries generates 50% of its income through a data analytics platform called Connect Consulting, used by e-commerce businesses
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Volunteer to teach a skill or hobby to the members of U-turn Church House. Contact Brandon on 082 875 2653. ‘Your perspective will be changed!’ he says
Enquire about hiring a U-turn graduate. ‘They’re very reliable and many have gone on to win employee of the year awards,’ says U-turn’s Strategic Partnership Development Manager, Rowen Ravera
If you’d like to contribute financially to U-Turn, please donate here:
Bank: Standard Bank, Branch: Kenilworth Centre
Sort/branch code: 026209, SWIFT code: SBZAZAJJ
Reference: Your surname + ‘CCK champs’ | Once-off/monthly
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