Street worker celebrates one year sober

A team of three cleans up at Bellevue Park.

Natalie Manuel celebrated a year of sobriety and drug-free living on January 5, saying she couldn’t have done it without the help of the City of Cape Town’s sub-council 16 management team.

Ms Manuel, 50, is a team-leader for the sub-council 16 cleaning team, which cleans up homeless hotspots in Wards 54, 55, 57, 77, and 115.

“I’m very thankful for the assistance that I’ve received from the managers like Mr Gershwin and Mr Cookson. They assisted me since I joined the cleaning last year, they put me in the safe space at Culemborg and they helped me to get this job as well,” Ms Manuel said.

She says her choice of drug was Tik (Crystal Methamphetamine), and while cleaning up the city she frequently finds little packets and other drug paraphernalia.

“We pick up packets of tik and we throw it away with the trash. I look at it and I remember the pain and misery that this drug caused, I have no problem putting it in the trash,” she said.

“It’s an everyday challenge being sober and free of this habit. I pray every day and I am grateful every day for what I have and for how far I’ve come. Recovery is a daily process and you have to have goals and gratitude to face this challenge.”

Ms Manuel worked as a laminator at the shipping company Robertson and Caine prior to her addiction and homelessness. She has now moved into a second phase shelter where she is required to pay rent.

“Living in this new home is part of the process of making us part of society, we have to be responsible and look after ourselves so it’s good for me, for us,” she said.

“I have a contract that comes to an end in May and I hope that it will be renewed as I enjoy my job and I do want to continue. I had a good job before and I was fired because of my addiction so I have learnt my lesson,”she said.

A bigger team is needed to clean up at the homeless camps, Natalie Manuel is the team leader for this group.

According to the Social Development & ECD Department’s professional officer, Peter Cookson, the City is extremely proud of Natalie and the many other clients who have made significant progress since accepting or seeking social assistance.

“In the interest of client confidentiality, we cannot reveal too much, but we have numerous stories of individuals who have moved through the Safe Spaces, or partner shelters, who have secured permanent employment and restored their relationships with their families or who’ve managed to make it into their own living spaces,” Mr Cookson said.

“Many of them have also successfully completed their rehabilitation programmes. It is incredibly satisfying to see the meaningful change that individuals are making in their lives through the various developmental programmes that are available,”he said.

According to Gershwin Fouldien, the manager of Sub-council 16, the programme has been very successful and will continue in the fiscal year 2023/24.

“A total of 30 people have been employed including a project manager/community liaison officer and three supervisors, the staff employed are primarily sourced from homeless shelters in the Cape Town CBD and surrounding areas,” Mr Fouldien said.

Aside from cleaning homeless hotspots, the project has developmental goals such as providing unemployed people with short-term employment opportunities, providing access to the City’s development programs such as substance abuse counselling (MATRIX Program), and training to do horticultural maintenance.

Natalie Manuel is one year free of a drug habit she had for 15 years.