‘There are too few safe spaces for the homeless’

Posted on September 03, 2021

Nicola Smith, knowledge coordinator for the Centre for Faith and Community in UP’s Faculty of Theology and Religion, chats about what she is doing – and what society can do – to address homelessness.

Tell us a bit about the work you do with the homeless.

I often visit sites in Pretoria central to address social housing issues or go to meetings in Hillbrow. The people I visit often suffer great social injustices in terms of housing, safety, sanitary health and physical health. I have no fear of these spaces, but I am not ignorant of my vulnerabilities.

You’re involved in the Feast of the Clowns project, which focuses on homelessness. Tell us more about this.

Celebrating 21 years of playful protest while shaping new narratives in the City of Tshwane, the feast is a celebration that contributes to a vision of socially inclusive urban regeneration through art and social justice advocacy.

What are some of the challenges that the homeless face?

There are too few safe spaces (public and housing typologies). There are not enough well-lit, visible, well-designed areas in the City of Tshwane. A safe space also needs a community that takes ownership of the space. 

How can society help to navigate this challenge?

The Feast of Clowns’ social justice awareness activities, like the march, workshops and courage concerts, expose new knowledge of these spatial limitations. The social platform joins new networks and communities to engage with their immediate environment and may create innovative interventions that could shed light on the issue of safe spaces.

You have a background in design. What inspired your choice?

They say architecture chooses you... the process was organic. I came out of the womb drawing. Drawing and design are so much a part of me; it creates so many opportunities (from auction house cataloguing to safe injection clinics) and encounters. I am very fortunate to be practising what I love and value. I studied Information Design and then Architecture, both at UP. Currently, I am working as a knowledge coordinator for the Centre for Faith and Community in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, and lecturing Design Theory part-time at Inscape.

- Author Masego Panyane

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