This week marks the first anniversary of my being asked to write this column.
In a way, like everything else that has happened in my life since Strandfontein, it feels like I have been doing this for decades, but if I try to write-up most of what has happened to me and in homelessness during this period, it would far exceed my allocated number of words for this column and seems almost impossible to have happened in just over a year.
None of what has happened is my doing. No one must ever say to me there isn’t a higher power. My life is a testimony to God’s grace and purpose in our lives.
I would like to thank Aziz and Quinton at the Cape Argus for their patience. Believe me, they are, yet again today, waiting for me to send in this column. I am well past deadline, not because I am lazy, but I actually have gone from homeless to a diary that for Sunday read as such: 08h00: e-tv interview; 11h00: promotional campaign radio ads; 14h30: Patricia de Lille and Brett Herron; 18h00: eNCA.
I mean, really?!
In my first column for the Argus, I paid tribute to the man who first wrote about homelessness in it, my friend Danny Oosthuizen, and a year later I would again like to dedicate my column to Danny and thank him for the guidance he still provides.
I feel his presence every time something big happens, and it happens often, so I hear the high heels pretty often too. I wanted to take your legacy forward my friend, and I know you think I am doing good, so keep on guiding!
I was invited to speak at a World Homeless Day event, but our own Homeless Action Week activities prevented me from showing my support there. I am sharing the message I would have shared with them:
There are over 100 million un-housed people and over 1 billion people in undignified accommodation worldwide, and we, in Cape Town, are too frightened by the 14 000 we quote as living on the street.
Although numbers are up, we definitely are still able to picture these numbers – it’s a quarter of a soccer game’s fans, and so we can manage this. Why wait till it’s out of control?
If we don’t start at the beginning, where people really have nothing to call their own. Then, by the time we get to the tens of thousands of “couch surfers”, hundreds of thousands of refugees, millions of shack, garage and backroom dwellers, we will be completely overwhelmed.
We need to allow this movement to progress with successes, successes that inspire us to keep addressing the next level, and by the time we get to that next level, we would have found the solution in the previous challenge. They say no man is an island. Well, no social inequity stands in isolation.
Solutions are to be found in us all working together.
Remember that today’s challenge for us in helping the 14 000 that are living on the streets and in undignified shelter might be to get them dignified shelter. But tomorrow, those same individuals need to transition to a level where already there are people waiting for their next level of accommodation, which we need to have options for.
And so, we shall have to move together to ensure that, eventually, we address everyone that has, for whatever reason, landed up in each of these undignified levels of accommodation, and get to a point where everyone has a dignified place called home. And it starts with the chronically homeless.
We need to be putting systems in place to provide a net for those just entering into homeless to be assisted fast enough, to bring an end to that first and most devastating level that is street homelessness, where people are so close to being virtually invisible.
Covid-19 and Strandfontein made us see them again, brought them out of the crevices, where they have hidden from these prejudices, judgements and being criminalised.
We might not like what a tent city looks like in our quaint neighbourhood or palatial suburb, but we can’t accommodate them in dignified accommodation overnight either. The resources are just not there, and neither is the political will at the moment.
A tent city isn’t exactly appealing, but it’s better to have it in full view where control can be exercised and services offered than it is to frighten them back up the mountains and down the cliffs and into crime to survive. Stop being uninformed. Listen.
Stop the destruction.
Make a difference:
And remember, homelessness is a state not a trait.
* 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.