Carlos Mesquita writes that he realises that he has a responsibility to break down myths and, in their place, paint a vivid picture of the real lived experience that is my own homelessness. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
Carlos Mesquita writes that he realises that he has a responsibility to break down myths and, in their place, paint a vivid picture of the real lived experience that is my own homelessness. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Lets debunk the myths around homelessness

By Carlos Mesquita Time of article published Mar 31, 2021

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I decided to go back to the hundreds of comments and hundreds of questions I have received since I started writing the column in October 2020, and find some pertinent issues that I could respond to in a column.

I realise that I have a responsibility to break down myths and, in their place, paint a vivid picture of the real lived experience that is my own homelessness. To this end I will be doing this more often. It is important for us all to engage with people in a manner that, through information, promotes a caring public.

An Afrikaans lady lost her handbag, and as she put it “her whole life” along with it, on Saturday. On Sunday she received a call from an African male, who told her he found her bag and had traced her through her credit cards. She met the young man and was handed back her handbag, untouched. She asked people who may be able to, to please help find him work as there were not many others like him. The first response I received, to what I thought was a feel-good story, was “blatant racism”.

I get called “Whitey” and “Mlungu“ every day of my life, it’s a sad part of our shared culture, and similarly, I doubt that her comment “there are not many others like him”, was intended to be racist. I know we need to address and change things that we say that do have the potential to hurt or offend others, but let's do so with understanding and compassion for where we come from historically.

This discrimination is true of society’s perceptions of the homeless and stands in the way of us finding viable and sustainable solutions. We also need to break down these perceptions and we have to do so with that same understanding and compassion, otherwise we will continue to miss each other.

Mike Heyns says, “We spend millions a year on the homeless. The question is, do we spend it the right way? What are our successes and is there not a better way? Do we really offer a solution or do we throw money at it in the hope for it to go away?”

These are the questions we should all be asking!

When the new suggestions for a way forward that impact positively on the homeless and can ultimately end chronic homelessness in the City are finalised and released (for the first time based on the lived experience of being homeless), a similar scenario will play out and many will discount or dismiss what may very well be a sensible and sustainable solution purely because of the misconception that all homeless people are addicts who do drugs or drink alcohol all day, make a mess when they skarrel and urinate in public - so how would they have any answers?

Those activities do not define homeless individuals including those partaking in those deeds. We all need to spend time, effort and budget re-educating the public on the homeless. The human element has conveniently been removed from the equation for too long. Society and not the politicians are the answer here.

Sandra-Sarah Hortsmann asked whether homelessness is due to unemployment and drugs. Her own father chose the streets so that he “had no worries”, and Jody Bunding said that ”there are those that choose to live by their own rules and not those of society”.

Here is the reality that lived experience brings: Be it in a home, a shelter or on the streets, society's rules remain the same; in fact if someone tells you that the homeless choose the streets rather than being re-homed, ask yourself and that person, “What could be so bad with regards to the alternative being offered, that they would opt for the street?”

After all, a person doing drugs in a shelter or a home will face the wrath of a parent or the shelter monitors whereas on the street, they haven’t merely broken a house rule or shelter rule, they have broken the law and the punishment is much more severe!

And this is true of every other anti-social behavioural pattern you can think of! But for the many supporting these institutions, the reality would be too much to face.

* Carlos Mesquita and a handful of others formed HAC (the Homeless Action Committee) that lobbies for the rights of the homeless. He also manages Our House in Oranjezicht, which is powered by the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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