Plumstead home for girls in municipal debt trap

Volunteer fund-raiser Colleen Sampson and St Michael’s managing director Rosemary Tsaurai examine their R300 000 municipal account.

A Plumstead home for teenage girls has started a BackaBuddy drive to pay off a R300 000 municipal debt so they can stay open.

The rambling St Michael’s Child and Youth Care Centre in Hemyock Road is a home to 25 girls, aged 13 to 18. Most are wards of the state, refugees and orphans. They come from broken homes and have experienced abuse, neglect and violence.

Rosemary Tsaurai, managing director of the registered non-profit organisation, says their monthly municipal account is about R20 000. Ms Tsaurai took over management of the “sinking ship” in November and recently learned from a City official that the debt could not be cancelled.

The story goes back to 2018, when Bonita Hendricks was director of St Michael’s (“Youth centre struggles to keep lights on,” Bulletin August 27). At that stage, the home’s municipal utility bill was sitting at R245 000. Then came the coronavirus and lockdown.

“The girls go to local Plumstead schools, but had to stay at home with home-schooling, internet access and three nutritious meals a day,” said Ms Tsaurai.

“We are doing what we can to minimise water and electricity… hair washing once a week, using the bucket system instead of showering. We installed a water tank and started a vegetable garden, selling the excess, to cut down on food costs. We also opened a charity shop and host a market on the last Saturday of the month.” (“Charity shop to help aid St Michael’s Youth Care Centre,” Bulletin, May 9, 2019).

Meanwhile the home has faced pressure from the City over its arrears. Management went backwards and forwards to the City trying to reduce the account.

At that time, Ian Neilson, mayoral committee member for finance, said the matter had been escalated to be resolved urgently. “Those who are in financial difficulties must approach the City. As a caring City, we also make allowance for residents who are unable to pay to apply to the City for relief. The City apologises for any inconvenience,” said Mr Nielsen.

He said the property rating category would be changed. Ms Tsaurai said that had been done and the grant in aid from the City of Cape Town had been backdated to 2019, which had slightly reduced the original debt. The home now had to show that it was saving on utilities and paying off the arrears.

Colleen Sampson, a volunteer from Heathfield, is assisting St Michael’s with fund-raising. She said they had several events planned for the coming months and asked the community to support them.

Joshua Covenant Chigome, spokesman for Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez said the centre received a subsidy from the department. “However, it does not cover the full operational cost of the facility. Furthermore, we are aware that the facility also relies on donor funding and other fund-raising initiatives. We also remain cognisant of the challenges facing the NGO sector right now due to the decline in donor funding. As such, we will liaise with the centre and see what can be done to support them further since we value the work that they are doing.”

Ms Tsaurai said the old building needed maintenance, and if any funds were left over after paying off the debt, they would buy a gas stove, renovate the kitchen and get new beds for the girls.

The City said it was looking into the matter and would respond in due course.

The charity shop offers a variety of clothing items, blankets, jewellery, books, shoes and more. It opens from Monday to Thursday from 9am to 2pm and the last Saturday of the month from 9am to 1pm. Donations of items are welcome and can be dropped off. Call 021 797 4186, email director@stmikesct.org.za.

St Michael’s has started a vegetable garden, selling the excess, to cut down on food costs.
St Michael’s opened a charity shop and it hosts a market on the last Saturday of the month.