I have come to realise other people’s stories have greater impact in showing people the true face of homelessness, and so here are some.
Jackson lived with his parents. ”I lived there for 20 years. My mother died of cancer, a year later my dad died of a heart attack. I was homeless. I look forward to every time I see my dog. I was there when he was born. I
“It’s nice to have someone there with you. It gives you the reason to go and do something, to get out and about. I can’t go to a shelter because my dog won’t be allowed.”
Richard came to Cape Town from Namibia 10 years ago to visit family and have a bit of a break.
“I saw there were better opportunities for me here, so I found a job as a chef – cooking is a passion of mine – and started studying business management through Unisa. Last June I was working long hours in the kitchen.
“It was a lot of stress and one day I got sick. I didn’t have a contract with my employer, so I wasn’t able to work in my hours when I was feeling better. At the same time, I lost the aunt and uncle that helped raise me. I was really down and at some point I just gave up. One day I came home and he had changed the locks.
“That night I slept on the streets for the first time. It was really cold. You wake up in the morning feeling hungry.”
Gerrie left home at 17 after suffering abuse. “I knew if I stayed near my abuser, one of us would wind up dead. I sleep at the train station, on benches, on the streets – anywhere I can. I have been drugged, attacked and raped repeatedly. I really think I am going to die soon.
“I turned to drink and drugs because I wanted to escape – escape the abuse, escape my own head, escape my own life. Many organisations and the city field workers offer help but it’s never given. I don't trust anyone any more.”
Riaan and his dog have been homeless and together for many years. Most homeless shelters don’t accept dogs, which made it difficult for Riaan to get the help he needed.
“I first met Lady when she was a tiny puppy – just six weeks old. When I said her name she jumped up and licked my face, that’s how I knew it was the right name for her. That was nine years ago.
“She’s been there for me ever since. I grew up in Johannesburg but my mother kicked me out when I was 14. I came to Cape Town 12 years ago and at first, things were going quite well, but things started to fall apart because of my drug use.”
At the beginning of 2020, Anthony was sleeping near De Waal Park.
“One day, law enforcement came and said I shouldn’t be sleeping there because it’s against the law. I knew that they would keep coming back and eventually take all my stuff, so I packed up my stuff and pitched my tent elsewhere.
“Not long after, a group of people said: ’The City is putting all the homeless people up in a hotel!’ The next day, we all started walking. We had to go to the site erected under the Culemborg bridge.
“They gave us small tents and told us this would be our home when we come back from our ‘holiday’. Not before long, I found out ‘our holiday’ meant Strandfontein!“
Peter did well and is now a City employee.
“About two weeks after being thrown back on the streets by City of Cape Town, we were invited to stay at the Community Chest offices, and when I thought we had had a good run and were about to be thrown on the streets, you told me and others we could stay on in another house for a few more months.
“One morning in May, I received my letter. I had been approved for a job with the City. I enjoy it there, but I will never forget how they dumped us that night.”
* 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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