A homeless man washes himself on a field in District Six. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA
A homeless man washes himself on a field in District Six. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA

Spare a thought for the homeless on our special day

By Danny Oosthuizen Time of article published Oct 10, 2017

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Today is World Homeless Day. It all started in 2010. The purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness while taking advantage of staging an international day.

I cannot imagine that anybody in their wildest dreams ever thought they could one day end up homeless. But some of us do.

When I ended up down and out, I had almost no survival skills, nor was I streetwise. And I had to learn real fast.

I became suspicious of everybody, had serious trust issues and was in constant fear of being hurt. Daytime was okay as one had many options to keep busy. The libraries, parks and beachfront were places you could find me.

I seldom slept at the same spot. I was secretive about where I lived. I dreaded night-time. I slept badly. I would normally search for a spot where a woman was present because I thought it would be safer than a men-only environment.

I would use drugs to keep myself awake at night. I collected recyclable items and sold them in the morning. I then would go to a quiet spot to sleep. And so it went on for many months.

I have met the most amazing people, with life stories that could be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. As time went by I made friends. But the lesson was never to trust fully.

Living on the streets exposes you to things very few "normal society" members would encounter. Drugs, prostitution, smuggling, violence. There is nothing money can’t buy.

We see everything, hear everything and say nothing. We know that corruption is rife on the streets. Corrupt officials here and there.

I slept many a night in a cell due to loitering. (Hanging around in an area without real reason.)

The saddest part for me was how the one day I was part of a community, and the next I was referred to as a Bergie, a vagrant, to name a few. The very people I sat next to in church almost every Sunday became distant.

I learnt where to wash, find a meal and get medical assistance when needed.

And I learnt about the human condition. And the saying is true: rather a piece of dry bread shared in love than a huge meal given with resentment.

What shook my foundation was homeless people found dead due to the cold. In this beautiful city of ours. And people who died as they could not take their medication regularly.

Today I walk past the very people who snubbed me when I was living outside and who refused to give me some water to drink. I now go inside their restaurant, sit down, order a meal and tip the waiter.

Just for today: be kind. Be genuine. Engage in conversation. Smile. And if you have time, listen.

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* Danny Oosthuizen, #TheDignityProject ambassador, in his weekly daily column for the Cape Argus tackles the struggles homeless people face.

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


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