“If you gave me a choice right now, sleep on the streets or a shelter, I would without reservation say, the street.” Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
“If you gave me a choice right now, sleep on the streets or a shelter, I would without reservation say, the street.” Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Don't blame me for preferring to sleep on streets - Part 1

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 28, 2020

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by Carlos Mesquita

If you gave me a choice right now, sleep on the streets or a shelter, I would without reservation say, the street. And here you would be disappointed and call me “ungrateful”.

I understand. You believe the hype and we haven’t stood up and complained - until Strandfontein, that is.

Most shelters in Cape Town, date back to the apartheid era where African gardeners and African maids were set up near to white madams but not too close for comfort, so shelters were built under bridges and near train stations in the less affluent apartheid suburbs.

Along comes 1994, more white, disabled and elderly people landed up on the streets supplemented by an influx of rural people looking for work in the cities.

The City’s most conservative estimates: 7000 homeless people, 2000 in shelters, 5000 (my estimate: 10000) on the streets. Cape Town has just over 2000 bed spaces with 1000 at one shelter - the Ark.

That is one of the reasons why there are so many people living on the streets.

Now to the other big question. Why do homeless people not want to go to shelters? 2020: Largest tent in Strandfontein. Service provider: The Haven Night Shelter.

While contractors attempt to put up a huge Haven logo, close on 500 homeless people rise as one and bring down that sign. A week later the organisation’s CEO is chased from the tent never to return. Why?

Consider this:

I am a young, gay guy. I sleep in Hope Street. You approach me and offer me a month’s accommodation at a shelter. I say “No, thanks!” You are disappointed! “Ungrateful boy.” Am I?

I ran away from home where family and neighbours abused me because I was gay. I came to Cape Town. Went to a shelter - homophobia, xenophobia and a motto: “Helping the homeless back home.”

I ran to the streets. Hope Street. I survive by pleasing older men and became addicted to “Tik” in the process of numbing my pain and you want to send me to the place that drove me here in the first place? Disappointed? So am I.

I am a man who survives by collecting and selling recyclable materials.

I can only sell it late at night when unscrupulous traders come and buy my day’s hard labour for next to nothing. Why? Because late at night it’s sell all or the scavengers will take it while I sleep.

You offer me a month’s accommodation at a shelter, I say, “No, thanks.” You are disappointed and think: ungrateful man. Am I? I will have to be in by 6pm, out by 6am. No place to store my recycling. I must give it up.

How am I going to afford the fee when your month runs out and I have no source of income? Also, I have a wife and a dog. Neither will be allowed to join me.

Disappointed, well, “SO AM I...”

To be continued next week.

* 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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