Hope on the ropes

Place of Hopes Jenny Arendorf and Arlene Carelse, co-owner of Koinonia Cake and Coffee Shop. The latter hosted a Womens Day breakfast for 35 women from the shelter this, just before Place of Hope is set to close its doors.

After 15 years, Place of Hope shelter for abused women in Crawford, is set to close its doors for good.

Only two of the 22 women who lived there this year, are still on the premises, but they too, must soon find alternative accommodation, as the building has been declared unsafe to live in.

With this shelter closing, women desperate to get out of abusive relationships, have one less place to turn to in their time of need. As it stands, there are only a few places of safety for women in Cape Town, and many of them are full.

In the greater Athlone area, Place of Hope was one of three shelters – the other two being Carehaven and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children.

Charlotte (not her real name) is one of thousands of women in need of this service, but her chances of actually getting into a shelter look bleak.

She fears that her husband might hurt her seriously, and although she has a restraining order against him, this has done little to help change her circumstances.

The only way she can survive, Charlotte believes, is to get away from her husband, but she has found it difficult to find accommodation – especially at a women’s shelter.

What makes it even more challenging for her, is that many of the shelters only allow boys up until the age of 10 to live with their mothers. She has two sons, aged 14 and 21.

Charlotte said: “I have a full-time job, but I cannot afford to pay market-related rent. I just don’t have that kind of disposable income. There are very few places of safety for abused women and their children, and the majority of them are run by NGOs. So where are women who need this service supposed to go? And the few places available are also always full. If you’re lucky to get in, it is only for a limited amount of time. My family can only accommodate my sons and me on a short-term basis, but I also would not like to bother others. We all have our crosses to bear,” she said.

She said all of these factors, made it difficult for women to “just up and go”.

The financial constraints, she said, were among the reasons women stayed in abusive relationships.

“Many of us are cash-strapped. Another reason we stay is because we feel ashamed. However, it is not us, but the perpetrator that must feel ashamed. Also, when it comes to abuse, many also think that because there are no physical marks on your body, things are okay. There is a perception that women who stay in abusive relationships are weak, but my experience has taught me that it takes a lot more strength to stay,” she said.

Place of Hope, like the name suggests, has been a beacon of hope for thousands of women over the years, who were in desperate situations, with many of them unskilled. The centre offered women and their children accommodation up to six months, where they had access to counselling, life skills and job skills training. The aim was to empower women to become emotionally and economically independent and to be re-integrated into society to live in peace and dignity.

It opened its doors in 2001, but by 2008, the building, which belongs to the City Mission, was up for sale. At that stage, 35 women and 42 children lived there. Because the church group which ran the centre could not afford to buy the building, it was decided to close it, but one of the members, Jenny Arendorf, said God told her not to close it.

“The board was already at a stage where they were tying up loose ends, when I approached them. I told them the Lord said I must keep the doors open, and from then on, our staff complement shrank from 14 members to three – just myself and two other women,” Ms Arendorf said.

City Mission allowed them to stay on, and the sale was put on hold, but the organisation had charged them a very low rent, which made it difficult to maintain the building. The centre was dealt another blow when the Department of Social Development withdrew its funding in 2011. This happened, Ms Arendorf said, because their paperwork had not been in order. Despite the lack of funding, the centre continued to provide this service for another five years.

“Your heart just breaks for the number of women who came knocking on our door for this month alone. There is a big need out there, but all the other shelters are full.

“God is capable of many things, and as much as I’d like us to find another building and continue the work, I’ll be using this time to connect with God and hear from Him what he wants from me and the organisation.”

A Christian-based coffee shop in Sybrand Park, called Koinonia, hosted 35 women, who were all once residents of Place of Hope, at a breakfast to commemorate Women’s Day on Tuesday August 9.

Ms Arendorf said it was here, that some women suggested going forward by establishing a support group.

“Place of Hope is about transforming the lives of people, and more importantly, transforming their souls. It was difficult to inform the women they had to move, and thankfully 20 of them have found alternative accommodation – but not at other shelters, because they are all full. Making affordable rental accommodation available is something our government must address.”

As much as it saddens Ms Arendorf that Place of Hope must close its doors, she is also encouraged when she looks back on how this intervention, not only helped the women who stayed there, but their children as well.

“One of the women who was a resident, is now studying towards her masters degree in Denmark.

“Another also studied at university. To me, however, the number of them connected to the Lord is the real success.

“One of the women suggested that those who passed through Place of Hope and are now successful need to give back.

“We are planning a reunion in January next year, and I do believe that nothing we did for God was in vain. So many lessons were learnt, and as this chapter closes, another will open. I have peace where we are at the moment, and believe God has something new for us. I’ve seen how God is faithful,” Ms Arendorf said.