“We would face a shortfall of about 5 000-7 000 beds in Cape Town should we try to accommodate every homeless person in Cape Town’s existing shelters today.” Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
“We would face a shortfall of about 5 000-7 000 beds in Cape Town should we try to accommodate every homeless person in Cape Town’s existing shelters today.” Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Don’t blame me for preferring to sleep on the streets - Part 2

By Opinion Time of article published Nov 5, 2020

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by Carlos Mesquita

Continued from last week’s column, “Don’t blame me for preferring to sleep on the streets - Part 1

Writing my weekly column feels like home to me, so I dedicate this column to all of those without a place they can call home.

Maslow told us many moons ago that in order for humans to get on with the business of living life, two basic needs have to be met – a roof over their head and their stomachs have to have something in them.

This is true also of homeless people; they are, after all, human. “There are shelters but I see more and more people sleeping on the streets,” a lady says. Capacity. We would face a shortfall of about 5 000-7 000 beds in Cape Town should we try to accommodate every homeless person in Cape Town’s existing shelters today.

Sad? So am I.

“Why are the elderly and disabled being housed in homeless shelters?” another lady enquires.

First, there are not sufficient affordable old age homes and specialised care centres and, second, homeless shelter operators have for years prioritised the Sassa card as a guaranteed source of income despite their mandate preventing it. Shocked? So am I.

The same shelters already at capacity (accommodating approximately 2 000) receive virtually all the funding meant for the homeless. They also receive funding per bed per night from the provincial government as well as from the homeless people who sleep on those same beds. It’s for the other services we provide, they say. What other services? Food? No, this is donated by the major retailers daily.

Programmes? No. When available, these are subsidised by those offering the programmes and grant-in-aids.

IDs and reunification services? No. These are funded separately by the government.

Clothing? No. These are donated.

I again take you to Strandfontein and give yet another reason why people living on the street don’t trust the existing shelters.

Early morning, Tent 2. A group runs up and down handing out clothes, shoes, toiletries, etc… They had split open the notorious blue tent that Haven staff were using to store the donations they were keeping for themselves.

Hooligans and barbarians and threatened by Law Enforcement… that is what the homeless are called that morning – for attempting to expose the corruption.

The corrupt are permitted to move their thieving base to a secluded tent where the blue tent is soon bursting at the seams again.

And I, well, I leave Strandfontein wearing the same shorts and slops that I wore on my arrival six weeks ago.

“No men’s jeans and shoes in the donations,” I am told.

Angry? So am I.

Then there’s Bulelani… you used to give him R10 every Friday at Fruit and Veg when that poster convinced you to Give Responsibly and with dignity.

Sad your R10 kept Bulelani from getting real help.

Your R10 now goes to a shelter but all shelters are full and they only give food to those who stay there.

Tired of trying to get into shelters all week, Bulelani returned, famished, to his spot and vowed never to listen to the likes of you again.

Back at Fruit and Veg where Law Enforcement will, tonight, again harass him, take his blankets, plastic cover and maybe even his ID just for good measure – so much for real help, and only last Friday I heard the owner say: “Bulelani here at night has kept the break-ins down”.

Despondent? 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.

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

Cape Argus

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