The Homestead is our intake shelter in District Six – a place where we can engage children who are looking for something better, who want to sleep off the streets, and are ready for more structure and the opportunity to return to non-formal schooling at Learn To Live (a bridging programme for street children run by the Salesian Institute).

Admission criteria are simple: one has to be a street child and under 16. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and operate on an open door principle – no child is forced to stay if he does not want to be there.

The building that now houses this project was initially planned as an overnight shelter for those children who found even the few simple rules of the intake shelter in New Church Street too difficult. We imagined that it would offer something to the Lennox’s of this world who were lost to us. We saw him at the traffic lights, stoned and smiling – then filthy, confused and crying – alternately capricious, desperate and debonair! We couldn’t keep him in and he couldn’t keep it up. The chronic kaleidoscope of glue and survival kept him on the streets – hopeful and helpless.

But in the event, those who came did not leave in the morning: the night shelter was claimed as a home. The children (like all children everywhere) were looking for permanency, safety, security and structure, and we were happy to agree. The building is now the intake shelter – a bit too small, not enough space for indoor recreation, but a happy and noisy place where children are accepted despite their sometimes challenging behaviour.

The children, feeling safer at last, demand attention. They flex their muscles, manipulate, charm and beguile: horrify some, reduce others to tears. They are beautiful, spontaneous and seldom silent.

Tomorrow some may be gone, unready or disillusioned, back to the fragile safety they find on the streets; others may choose to stay, to test whether this place truly offers them shelter and hope; many will ask for a more lasting place, an attachment, a return to a normal child’s life ….

But the Lennox’s are still out there … we have to dream another dream for them.