The Athlone District Advice Office has been dealt a major blow after its Gatesville office was broken into and severely vandalised.
The advice office has been serving the community for 30 years, providing a valuable service to clients who cannot afford legal fees.
Despite the financial challenges over the years, those involved worked hard to ensure it does not close its doors, as this service is much-needed.
Glenda Damons, who is one of the volunteers at the advice office, said when she unlocked the office on Monday January 28, she first noticed there was no longer a front door after she rolled the shutters up.
The front section of the building had aluminium frames and glass doors.
“It looks like the thieves wanted to take the whole front section, because of the monetary value of the aluminium. They even stole our toilet door. I feel very unsafe here,” Ms Damons said.
Apart from the doors that were stolen, the thieves also made off with crockery, sugar, tea, coffee, a small amount of money, a computer and stationery, and the lockers, and photocopy machine was also damaged in the process. The perpetrators also left the office in disarray as they vandalised it.
“This is so upsetting. We are doing this for the community. What if the thief’s family members needed this service? Even with all that happened, we still assisted some clients. The need is so great out there. People are desperate for assistance. If we should close, it would be a sad day for the community. We offer a free service, and we see up to 20 clients a week. Lawyers charge for every hour they work, and their fees are expensive,” Ms Damons said.
The services offered include advice on housing-related matters, such as eviction orders and lease agreements, as well as labour-related matters, wills, divorce matters, and drug-related issues. Clients are also referred to other service providers.
On Tuesday January 29, the members of the advice office met with the community and other role players, and it was decided to close the office immediately.
“This is due to the state of the office, and in the interest of the safety of both the clients and office personnel. We will negotiate for temporary office space and appeal to businesses in the area to please come forward to assist us. We would love to continue serving our people,” Brian Alcock said.
In the interim, the Athlone District Advice Office will consult with clients at the Athlone library on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from noon to 2pm, and on a Monday and Thursday evenings from 5.30pm to 7pm.
Anyone with information about the break-in can contact Athlone SAPS at 021 697 9200.
If you can assist the advice office, contact Mr Alcock at 083 747 5901 or Glenda Damons at 076 615 8606.