Carlos Mesquita writes that a recent meeting to discuss a proposal for a coalition was a highlight for him as the coalition could see homeless people leading the body that represents them. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
Carlos Mesquita writes that a recent meeting to discuss a proposal for a coalition was a highlight for him as the coalition could see homeless people leading the body that represents them. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Homeless people should be at the forefront of solutions

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 17, 2021

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by Carlos Mesquita

This week, I am sharing the highlights of my diary last week. The week’s focus would be Friday’s meeting with 20 core members of the homeless and homeless service provision groupings to discuss my proposal for a new coalition, a coalition that could for the first time see homeless people leading the body that represents homelessness in Cape Town.

This should be a body that will advocate and lobby for, among other things, the decriminalisation of homelessness as we join the international campaign “Houses Not Handcuffs.”

The coalition will also for the first time offer services to the homeless through its Homeless Hub to be run and manned by re-homed people and trained homeless individuals.

On Monday, I was approached by a homeless man, arrested almost a month ago for having seen the commercial viability in breaking the lockdown rule of no alcohol sales and was making himself a killing. That is until he got himself arrested.

On their way to the police station, he had asked them if he could pay a fine as he really didn’t want to go to prison. He told them he had R25 000. “Not enough,” they say.

He told them he had another R65 000 where they arrested him. Back they went. He gave them the R90 000, only to find himself being charged at the station and, so he demanded that his money and cellphone be booked in as his property.

On Monday his case was withdrawn as it was his fifth appearance and still there was no docket.

He has been to the police station and they say there is no money. And so starts the very long and difficult task of getting to the bottom of this all-too-familiar story.

When we are no closer to getting any assistance by Tuesday, I roped in Rev Annie Kirke and her police connections and sooner than you can say Annie, I was meeting with the top brass at Central police station.

His case was not even registered at the crime office.

A captain promises to get back to me.

I hear nothing! Wednesday, we are told that the missing docket has miraculously been found and he can prepare himself for re-arrest. No, he can't get any money as it is “evidence”.

I would have believed this, had I not been there to see the reaction on that captain’s face when he could find no trace of this arrest.

Thursday it was Paint City, the Safe Space in Bellville that has since its service provider, MATDOC, took up the reins, been putting people that return under the influence in locked cages, strip-searched their female clients and now footage has come to the fore of morphine being left unattended by a sleeping manager, floors covered in menstrual blood (left uncleaned for days) and maggots coming out of food containers delivered for consumption by the residents.

I was granted accreditation as a human rights monitor by Commissioner Chris Nissan on the Paint City situation and on Thursday, I sat in on a zoom meeting with, among others, director Sauls and administrative head Nazlie du Toit.

Despite all the proof provided, the City will not take action and remove this non-accredited service provider. The City is about to have yet another crisis at Culemborg 2 because of their refusal to listen to warnings as well adhere to court orders.

It has already begun. By Friday 3 residents were arrested.

Finally! Big Zoom! Big decisions. Easiest meeting of the week. It is agreed. We will, this coming Friday forge ahead with yet another Zoom, this time with all interested parties wanting to join the coalition.

The core group from this Friday will help me prepare a concise plan of action for the coalition and the best news is that all are in accord, the homeless hub will be established as part of the coalition’s work and the homeless contingent will lead this new coalition!

This is to be celebrated!

* 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.

Cape Argus

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