Lets break the stigmas around homelessness to provide lasting solutions
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It seems as if, in the past week, gears have shifted in many ways in terms of the opposing parties involved in the crisis that is homelessness.
A flyer issued to coincide with an election campaign in Sea Point made me see red.
In the name of a campaign to elect Paul Jacobson as ward councillor for that ward under the Freedom Front banner, an offensive flyer saw the light of day.
I have no problem with Mr Jacobson going into politics or the associations he has made to reach his goal. It’s his constitutional right to do so.
What I did find vile and offensive were the visuals of half-naked homeless men whom I know to have mental challenges and one who has passed away.
The photos are not all current. If anything, the pamphlet serves to prove it’s not the homeless that are the big problem but those who should be in specialised homes which the national government has not adequately provided for, or in prisons if they are criminals. This is not the homelessness I speak of.
Of course, the media descended on me, wanting my take on it and I gave it.
Mr Jacobson responded with what he denies are threats but went on to tell me he has very influential people backing his campaign and that they are not impressed with me: “There are going to be consequences for targeting myself and Gary”.
I asked him if that was a threat, to which he answered, “I never threaten anyone. You have a long history of criminal activity, yet you masquerade as a saint. Unfortunately, you targeted the wrong person”
As most of you know, I have never denied my past and admitted to having left homelessness with 18 arrests to my name and was found guilty for possession of drugs and sentenced to three and six months respectively – in homelessness, being arrested becomes the order of the day. The discrepancy between arrests and convictions says it all. This is why I fight the criminalisation of homeless people.
But this response is another of those typical responses from those who are not prepared to sit down and talk about the issues at hand.
I have Jacobson to meet me, so I can show and explain the reasons for the things I say. I have told him about the 10-year plan that defines my vision and that although we come from different angles, we both want the same outcome. That homeless people no longer sleep on the streets of Cape Town. The offer still stands.
Then we had the campaign that was launched by the Rehoming Collective and the Rehoming Collective also having launched its website and social media pages on Sunday, Mandela Day.
This was a proud moment for me as it felt as if I had started to share the blessing that was bestowed on me when I was given that opportunity to change my life. And I can testify that all it took was a “home” and agency to make my decisions. It helped to have employment possibilities to look forward to, and the knowledge that I could manage my drug habit and eventually no longer need the drugs as my issues were dealt with one by one. That is what my gift is to others on the street.
We can end chronic homelessness by providing dignified accommodation. Along with agency and always including upliftment and employment programmes as well as access to harm reduction and eventually abstinence from substances that have been abused.
The campaign, “Mandela Day: Helping change the lives of people living on the street”, that is running is 67 homeless people who have told us their 67 stories which we have edited for the media to 67 seconds or 67 words and which we will be releasing for 67 days.
We want the stories to highlight the lived experience of those living on the streets and in so doing inform those who are housed and exposed only to the myths and exceptions to the rule.
We need to break the stigmas on both sides, to work together and find long-lasting and sustainable solutions.
I end off on a sad and angry note but, unfortunately, I received tidings of the death of yet another homeless man that seems to be tied to the forced removal of his shelter and his blankets by those meant to keep us safe. Although I feel comfortable making that statement, based on what I have heard, I will follow up on this death and ensure the truth is told, irrespective of the outcome.
For those of you who have supported me throughout my journey, I will never have words to describe how much it means to me to know I have support in realising my vision for a positive outcome for all who find themselves acting maliciously and without brotherhood and love for their fellow man. I urge you to let His will be done.
Optimistic? So am I.
* 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. He can be reached at [email protected]
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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