COLUMN: Carlos Mesquita writes that homelessness is a human crisis that affects us all. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)
COLUMN: Carlos Mesquita writes that homelessness is a human crisis that affects us all. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

When are so many convinced that all homeless people are bad and lazy?

By Carlos Mesquita Time of article published Jul 28, 2021

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There has had been a change either in the perception of or the attitude to homeless people over the years I’ve been homeless. I have no idea how big and significant that change was, and I still don’t know what caused it.

There are people who do understand and empathise with the plight of the homeless, but most of them are recent converts – having had a clearer understanding a change of heart since being exposed to real homeless stories and a different narrative to that propagated prior to Covid-19 and the Strandfontein scandal.

When did it all happen? When were so many convinced that all homeless people are bad, do bad things, are lazy and always refuse good sound assistance and will never change their bad ways?

When and who convinced them that we have a wonderful shelter system with ample bed space?

This week, it got so bad that I had visions of finding a way to get every single person (homeless, civilians, politicians, even the so-called do-gooders and well-intentioned, everyone) in the city to stop doing whatever it is they are doing and for just an hour and have them immobilised, so that I and some colleagues could be afforded the opportunity of addressing them all at the same time, and show them the reality and some perspective -- because the current situation is ludicrous.

Homelessness is a human crisis that affects us all. The so-called “bad behaviour” people keep talking about is part of this terrible lie everyone is living.

Who was it that started this nonsense? Who escalated this to this point?

And don’t tell me it was always like this, and it’s like this the world over, and it’s just become more obvious since lockdown. Yes, I know those things ring true, and to a degree I agree. But you are missing the point. People in Cape Town were generally never callous and heartless towards homeless people. They never dehumanised and criminalised them the way they do now.

Although it wasn’t right either, I remember how most pitied them and were saddened by their reality.

An out-pouring by a handful, who during the lockdown, came out to assist and concerned themselves about the well-being of the homeless would not actually be seen as an outpouring six years ago; this I promise you. It is now, because it is in stark contrast to those who really and truly have bought into the hellish scenario that was at some point unleashed on this City.

I could never understand, during my last two years of living on the street, why it was that the law enforcers or those in the service provision for the homeless had become so callous.

I didn’t recognise who some of my old colleagues had become. Here’s something – Hassan Khan, the Haven Night Shelter chief executive and I had a great deal of respect for one another and agreed about most things. After I left Elim, he even offered the Haven in Bellville (which he had just taken over a month prior) for me to run.

Even more of a shock is the fact that I used to sit a few seats from mayco member Alderman JP Smith at the monthly meetings in Parow for the development of the Voortrekker Corridor and to discuss the homeless question – how to better and improve our relationship with the homeless.

In fact, JP’s appearance was one of the highlights for me. He is a brilliant orator with a brilliant mind. He would often come in a little late and, like a naughty boy, apologise for being late. I would sit in awe as he spoke to his safety and security report.

I have no idea when and what happened, but something did, and in its wake it has left its victims exposed, victimised and criminalised.

Feeling upset? 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. He can be reached at [email protected]

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

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