#IsawSmiley: campaign hopes to break the cycle of homelessness


Want to help the homeless? Stop giving them money. That’s the message behind a campaign that aims to reduce casual handouts and instead encourage responsible donations to organisations working to protect, shelter and educate people living on the streets of Cape Town, South Africa.

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Driven through a mobi-site and posters around the city’s central business district, the Cape Town Central Improvement District (CCID)’s Give Responsibly campaign hopes to create awareness about the cycle of homelessness. The posters, which have been added to daily, depict three stories about a character called Smiley, explaining how difficult circumstances led to a life on the street, unemployment and drug addiction. They also encourage passersby to talk about the issue and where they spotted the pasteups around the city, by using the #isawsmiley hashtag.

“For many members of the public, the instinct is to give money to people begging on the street because they believe it will give the person a chance to build a new life — or at the very least help them survive life on the street,” said Pat Eddy, head of social development at the CCID.

“However, we find that very often the money given is not used for basic needs like food, clothing or shelter but rather to fuel addictions, resulting in homeless people sometimes rejecting assistance and committing themselves to a life on the street,” Eddy continued.

The mobi-site is filled with the digital versions of the cartoons about Smiley, instructions on how to donate via SMS, as well as details about the organisations which will benefit from the money. They include everything from shelters to rehabilitation centres and NGOs which help teach skills and provide employment opportunities.

The CCID also partnered with local mobile operators to ensure the majority of the R10 donated through the SMSes actually reaches the organisations, with Vodacom agreeing to waive all charges up until the donations total R40 000.

“Smiley’s stories are based on real life stories of people who could turn their lives around as a result of interventions from the partner NGOs,” said Eddy. “When the public uses the SMS line to donate to the campaign, they are able to see the true happy endings to Smiley’s story, and to see how their donations can literally change lives.”

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