'I COME Here FOR the FOOD'

SOME start queueing from 1pm, waiting anxiously for the gates of 2A Simmonds Street in Johannesburg to open.

A scramble ensues when the gates of the Salvation Army open at 2.30pm, bringing in hundreds of cold and hungry people from all over Johannesburg.

Within minutes, big pots of stew and potatoes stand empty after the 200 men, women and children have had their fill.

For some, like Vincent Chirwa, the afternoon's stew is their only meal for the day.

Chirwa, who refers to himself as "the best electrician in South Africa", walks from Bertrams to the charity organisation's building every day.

"I lost my job two months ago and have been coming to the shelter every day since. I share a room with a friend and his wife.

I come here for food every day because I don't want to be a burden on them," says Chirwa.

A few paces from where Chirwa wolfs down his food, a pile of old clothes is reduced to nothing as the beneficiaries, mostly women with babies on their backs, sift through odd bits of clothing and pillows.

"I came here to get blankets for my children. Our shack is too cold," says Mavis Ndlovu as she queues patiently.

Winter is especially hard on the homeless because there aren't enough shelters, says assistant manager Joey Haramis.

The building has enough room for 60 people, yet staff get more than 10 queries for accommodation daily, says Haramis.

"There are too many people living on the streets of Johannesburg and there are not enough shelters for all of them.

"We need the government to open more shelters and look after them," she says.

Haramis says there is always a demand for bread, blankets, warm clothes and canned food.

"We spend at least R1000 a day to feed the people," says Haramis.

Living in one of Newtown's dilapidated buildings, nothing beats the warmth of a fire and a cup of tea on a cold night, says Roger Tshela.

"There's nothing better than a brazier to keep the chill out. Ngumanqoba.

"Ican't sleep without a cup of tea and warm water for my toes," he says.