“God knows I would rather be cold and hungry than that the poor should be deprived of any consolation in our power to afford.”
Venerable Catherine McAuley
Strabane Mercy Centre is situated in downtown Johannesburg. When we celebrated our Centenary in 1998, Johannesburg was a far cry from being the major tourist attraction in South Africa. The city centre had become quite derelict, businesses moved out to the suburbs and soon, because of crime and other factors, it became a no-go area. Scores of people who had come to Johannesburg (also named Egoli – City of Gold) to seek employment, soon found their dreams shattered. Many ended up on the streets of Johannesburg, unemployed and homeless, and with no means of supporting themselves. After much discernment by the Sisters of Mercy, it was decided that the greatest need at that time was a place of safety for the homeless, and so Strabane Mercy Centre for the Homeless was set up as part of our Centenary project .
The Centre caters for a hundred homeless people every night. They come from every walk of life, many having known better times. Our main objective is to improve the quality of life for those who have been living in appalling conditions and often seem to have lost all hope. When they first arrive, many are suffering from depression, stress and other forms of broken-ness. Each has his/her own story to tell, stories that wrench the heart. Thanks to the dedicated and caring staff who have been formed in our Mercy Charism, the new residents are greeted with loving care. The availability of a hot shower, fresh clothes and a safe place in which to rest often marks the beginning of a renewed sense of their own worth.
As Catherine says, “There are things the poor prize more highly than gold, though they cost the donor nothing. Among these are the kind word, the gentle compassionate look and the patient hearing of sorrows.”
As time goes on, they begin to regain a sense of dignity and self-esteem and have renewed hope for the future. The Centre also provides social services, with an Advice Bureau to assist both residents and non-residents to secure jobs, apply for disability pensions, child allowances, I.D. documents and housing. Residents are also encouraged to make contact with their families and are assisted to do so. Skills training in marketable skills such as computer literacy, sewing, fabric painting and car guarding is offered and we network with other organisations in the city providing courses in areas such as welding, bricklaying and soft toy-making which some of our residents attend. In this way it is hoped they become employable and will be reintegrated into society.
One story concerns O…, a middle-aged Zimbabwean national who came to the Shelter, weak, dirty and very neglected. He had lost his job and had been sleeping in the park for two weeks. After a hot bath and a change of clothes he shared his story. He was HIV positive with nowhere to go and due to his HIV status could not return home even if he had the means. The following day we brought him to St. Francis Hospice where the doctors predicted he might last a week. A Sister of Mercy who worked at the Centre, took very special care of O…. To the surprise of all, and after prolonged treatment, he recovered. Today he holds a permanent job as a chef in one of the restaurants in a neighbouring town. He visits Strabane Centre occasionally for a cup of tea and, when he cannot visit, communicates by phone. He claims Strabane Centre gave him back his life.
Many women pass through the Centre as a result of broken marriages, unemployment, and rejection by their families because of their HIV status. They often find themselves homeless, friendless and scared on the streets of a big city. One woman told us : “My husband walked away from me for no apparent reason, leaving me with two young children to take care of. I lost my job when the factory where I was employed closed down. With no one to turn to, I trudged the city streets looking for a job and a place to stay. One day, another homeless lady told me about Strabane Centre. When I arrived, I was greeted with friendliness, given all the necessary toiletries, clothes and a comfortable bed. I began collecting tins to make some money. Today, I have a housekeeping job in a nearby suburb and can now afford accommodation for myself and my two children.”
These stories and many others are the reason Strabane Mercy Centre continues its work today.
Strabane Mercy Centre
Land line: +27 11 447 8494
Mobile: +27 72 548 5146