Rooting out homelessness in a garden of new beginnings

 
 
 

Nazeema Jacobs never imagined herself blossoming like this. After leading a life of non-stop clubbing and drug addiction, everything took a turn for the worse. “I’ve made some terrible choices,” Jacobs says. “Before I knew it, my family wanted nothing to do with me.” For five years, she had nowhere to live but the streets of Cape Town. Her story isn’t an isolated case. According to the Western Cape Government, there are close to 5 000 people who are homeless in the city. Simply providing shelter and handouts isn’t working. So how do we end the cycle of homelessness and addiction?

Three years ago, Jacobs joined Streetscapes, a gardening project that rehabilitates and uplifts the homeless. Their urban garden grows vegetables to be sold to local businesses and is tended by people who come off the street. The profits, along with donations, go toward paying these budding gardeners. Working the land, gently planting each seed, and watering the crops has given Jacobs a routine, responsibility, and an income. These are all key to forming stability – and a sense of purpose. “Knowing that I can create life with my hands made me feel like I am worthy of doing something,” Jacobs says. 

With her dignity restored, she’s now sober and has reunited with her family. Jacobs is integral to the Streetscapes team and currently works as an assistant manager. Since its inception in 2015, two more gardens have sprung up across the city. The organisation employs over 50 people, providing them the opportunity to make something of themselves. “Gardening means so much more to me now,” Jacobs says. She shows that there are sustainable ways to nurture wisdom and grow a life beyond our circumstances.