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U-turn is turning the lives of the homeless around in Cape Town


U-turn gives homeless adults around Cape Town the means to get off the street and become self-sufficient.

“I was 16 years old, vulnerable and living in an area where gangsterism was high – so were drugs. I got involved with the wrong people and started doing drugs. During that time, I lost all connection with my family. Now, I’m a supervisor at U-turn, and I’ve managed to build a relationship with my children, my brothers and my sister. I found inner peace with myself and I’ve learned to become more confident.”
Bianca, Life-Change Graduate

U-turn is a Cape Town-based NGO that equips individuals and communities with skills to overcome homelessness.

For the last 25 years, U-turn has dedicated its efforts to taking a person from being homeless, unemployed and struggling with addiction to being sober, employed and living in formal housing. U-turn was founded in 1997 by Colleen Lewis who had a passion for helping people on the street. As of 2021, U-turn has tripled the number of homeless people they have taken under their wing. Their hope is to open a site in Johannesburg by 2023.

Here’s a brief look at how they help people on their Life-Change Journey out of homelessness

U-turn has four phases that beneficiaries go through in order to “graduate”.

Phase 1 incorporates providing basic needs through a voucher system, therapy and workshops

The beneficiaries either get vouchers through informal work (such as street cleaning, recycling, etc.) or through members of the public who buy the vouchers as a way of donating. The voucher system creates a sense of accountability and dignity. It also allows community members to give responsibly while removing cash from the street, which is a driver for dependence and addiction. Vouchers can be exchanged at a U-turn centre, for basic needs, therapy and workshops.

On average it takes six months of regular interactions in Phase 1 before an individual is ready to move on to Phase 2.

Phase 2 involves drug/alcohol rehab.

Beneficiaries are enrolled in drug/alcohol rehab. U-turn sponsors transport, continuous support and shelter fees so the participants are no longer sleeping on the street while overcoming their addiction. On days off from rehab, Phase 2 participants return to the Phase 1 service centres as volunteers, to give back and to help with the running of services. They represent powerful role models for incoming Phase 1 participants. Having come from similar backgrounds and overcoming similar challenges, they are walking examples that change is possible. This phase typically lasts three to four months.

Phase 3 is about work-readiness

Once sober and stable, participants move on to Phase 3 work-readiness. This phase offers on-the-job training from 8:30-17:00 four days a week in one of U-turn’s social enterprises, which include retail shops, e-commerce, a laundromat and a building/construction company.

One day a week, clients participate in a personal development day. Here intensive vocational skills, such as computer literacy, business communications, driving lessons, and important life skills like money management, parenting and anger management are provided and implemented. Relapse prevention and continued therapy are also an important part of Phase 3.

Beneficiaries in Phase 3 move into halfway houses and receive stipends with which they start a savings account and begin to manage their own money. This phase typically lasts 12 to 24 months depending on the client’s progress.

Phase 4 is about integrating back into the community and finding employment

In Phase 4 the focus shifts to securing a job and independent accommodation. U-turn helps set career goals, write CVs and apply for jobs online. Clients graduate when they have secured a job and independent accommodation.

After graduation, U-turn assists through check-ups and peer support groups. U-turn follows up after six months. Every graduate that completes the U-turn programme, overcoming homelessness and achieving independence is a milestone celebrated on their “Wall of Graduates.”

In the last five years, over 80% of graduates remain sober and employed and over 70% remain in formal accommodation.

Current projects U-turn has on the go

Mi-change vouchers

A city-wide voucher initiative enabling residents to give to people on the street responsibly with vouchers redeemable at participating NGOs, for meals, clothing, showers and a bed for the night depending on availability. Learn more at

Claremont safe-space

U-turn’s Claremont service centre is being improved to accommodate 70 bed spaces for people facing homelessness to provide care throughout the day and the night.

Ways to get involved

  1. Nominate U-turn as your chosen beneficiary on the Naked Difference.
  2. Support Mi-change vouchers and give responsibly to help people living on the street find a pathway out of homelessness.
  3. Assist U-turn to set up a Phase 1 service centre in your area.
  4. Become a friendly employer to assist the Phase 3 and 4 clients find jobs in the open market.
  5. Donate directly to U-turn.

What is the Naked Difference and how does it make Naked different from other insurers?

When you see or hear “Naked Difference”, Corporate Social Investment might be what comes to mind. But it shouldn’t. The Naked Difference isn’t the icing on the cake as far as social impact goes. The way we’ve built Naked means that causes benefit directly from the way we do business. We’re on a path to do good in an otherwise grudge-purchase industry.

We take a flat fee upfront to cover running costs and profit. The rest of the money goes towards claims, with leftover premiums at the end of the year paid to causes that our clients choose. This is different from other insurers, who take the leftover money as profit: we’ve removed the conflict of interest completely. This is the Naked Difference and it changes everything about insurance.

We’re really passionate about telling people about the Naked Difference and who it supports, so we’re featuring our causes to share what they do within South African communities.


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