Cape Town - Shane Scott has one of the best views of Table Mountain. But his view is not from a prime location.
His “bedroom” is under the Nelson Mandela Boulevard bridge on Hospital Bend, and his alarm clock is the buzz of traffic as motorists make their way into the city.
Scott is homeless and has been “living” under the bridge for about two months.
As commuters rush by to get to work, Scott lies covered by a dull orange blanket that flaps in the wind. His possessions are close by, between the stone platform and the underbelly of the bridge.
He turned 29 this month while living under the bridge.
Scott tries to start every day like anyone else: with a wash. “I’m like every other person. I don’t feel normal before having taken a splash.”
But first he has to go to Observatory cemetery for the soap he hid there for safekeeping. The trouble is he has forgotten where he put his belongings. He strolls to the rear section of the graveyard where a makeshift shelter is almost concealed by low-hanging fronds of a palm.
Inside are three males Scott has been familiar with during his time on the streets.
“All people who are essentially screwed look out for each other. If someone living in his house was on his last crust of bread they would not share it, but it’s a different scenario on the streets. You don’t really have friends on the streets. You have acquaintances and then you get people you can work with.”
Scott doesn’t have access to a shower, so he uses a stream of fresh water running down the mountain into a storm drain.
Scott has to cross Hospital Bend and dodge speeding cars to get to his water source.
There is no footpath to the stream.
He blushes when he recalls the time a group of female mountain rangers caught him and a friend going about their ablutions.
Scott also uses the water from a sprinkler system on an island near the De Waal Drive turn-off. He collects the water in a bucket and uses body soap to wash his clothes. He spreads them out over rocks and waits for them to dry.
He’d contracted a skin infection from donated clothing, so now washing his clothes has become a priority.
He can’t afford to get sick on the streets. Scott says he has to try to stay healthy on the streets because he will not be able nurse himself back to health.
When he has money, Scott buys a banana-flavoured vitamin shake he mixes with milk, which helps bolster his immune system.
Finding food is never guaranteed. But he has become street-smart and has found ways – such as visiting the cafés in Observatory’s Lower Main Road. Then there’s dumpster diving. According to Scott, students tend to waste food. He can usually find something to eat when he rummages through the bins in Obs.
“Most of the time there is absolutely nothing wrong with the food.”
He also finds food between the islands at the parking bay outside Pick n Pay in the area.
“Normally people leave unwanted food for the car guards in these islands, but they (car guards) don’t want them.”
Scott says his childhood was not pleasant, and he finds it hard recalling that time.
When he was three the state removed him from his family home and put him in a children’s home.
When his parents divorced, Scott said, he succumbed to peer pressure. At high school he began drinking excessively and using drugs, but managed to pass matric.
He went on to study computer programming, and found work with major fashion retail companies as an IT administrator.
He says the chain of events that led to his homelessness started when he lost his job.
“I lived in a flat at that time. I had borrowed so much money and sold a lot of my possessions so I could pay the rent. Essentially, when the next few months rolled by, I had not found a job, I was in debt and I still had not been able to keep up with the rent that accumulated.”
Scott says his memory of his first night on the streets is vague.
He says he was familiar with the street people because he always tried to give them food or money whenever he could.
“I had nowhere to go essentially. I remember borrowing a blanket from a homeless guy I knew very well, and I just roamed around Mowbray until I found a spot on the pavement and just slept there for the night.”
Scott says he takes full responsibility for where he is now and how he got there.
“During that period I alienated my family. I screwed up my relationships with people. I have kind of accepted it. They forgave me, but from a distance. I would have done the same if I had had a person like me in my life.”
Scott says he prefers to think that he does not live under the bridge, but just sleeps there.
“I chose to settle here because people rarely come here. It just lessens the risk of me being harmed or my things being stolen. Another reason would be that I have some shelter for when it rains.”
Scott’s father had offered to set him up with money to get his “life together”, but on one condition. His father expects him to find affordable accommodation in which Scott can settle while he finds a steady job.
So why doesn’t he move in with his father?
“Firstly, I don’t want to cause my dad unnecessary stress by burdening him with my situation. My dad is one of those overly involved parents and he will obsess about me finding a job, which would probably worsen his health. Secondly, from a financial perspective, he cannot afford to provide for both of us.”
Though Scott might have a place to stay he says finding a job will require him to have money. He plans to break away from the city and save enough money for a bus ticket to Knysna.
He feels that there he will not only be breaking away from city life, but will be close to nature, and possibly return with a new lease of life.
Despite his day-to-day struggles, Scott still tries to devote himself to a project geared to helping homeless people get off the streets. He is a co-director of the Inner City Invisible Persons, and one of the organisation’s key interests is developing alternative housing methods. This includes supplying homeless people with tents they can carry in backpacks.
The homeless are “stonewalled” by more fortunate people, he says.
“Homelessness is not a government problem, it is a community problem. It should be up to the community to uplift the homeless. I want to encourage people to look beyond the walls surrounding their houses.”
Thursday night would have been his last night under the bridge.
He had saved the money for his bus ticket, and with it the possibility of a fresh start.