Cape Town - Roy Rajmon knew he had hit rock bottom when he went from running his own accounting business to sleeping on a bench in the Company’s Garden, with one eye open to make sure no one stole his shoes.
But, a year ago, he joined 24 other homeless people at the Blue Waters campsite in Strandfontein for a “family and restoration week” - and never left. He was offered a job as manager of the facility by Bernard Fortuin, chief executive of South African Youth Adventures (SAYA), an NGO that leases the site from the city.
The lifeline was provided by Venetia Orgill, known to Cape Town’s homeless populationas “ma”, who not only feeds them every Thursday in the Company’s Garden, but works hard to get them off the street for good.
Orgill, the founder of NGO Discover Your Power, said out of the 24 who attended the camp a year ago, seven, including Rajmon, were back with their families, had found jobs and had never returned to the streets.
One of the guys came to visit while we were feeding recently. I saw this guy in a collar and tie watching me. He smiled and said ‘don’t you recognise me?’
Only then I realised who it was, because the transformation was incredible. Rajman, 50, landed up on the streets when his legal accounting business in Durban started floundering and he came to Cape Town looking for more clients.
”I stayed in a hotel for about a week but ran out of money. I even sold my laptop.” He said he was shocked when he found himself sitting on a bench in the Company’s Garden.
”The first night I slept alone, under a light. I couldn’t handle it, but fortunately I met people who were educated and helped me. They even gave me a sleeping bag.”
He fell into the routine of keeping clean and finding food. Every morning, he showered at The Carpenter’s Shop, which provided him with R1 coupons he would exchange for coffee and food at The Service Dining Rooms – also known as the 5 cent shop – because that is what the meals used to cost.
On Sundays, he and other homeless people went to the Hillsong Church in Century City. “A special bus brought us to the church, where we got coffee and on the way back we were given sandwiches and fruit.”
Rajman said Orgill had been a lifesaver. “She brought me to this camp where I met Mr Bernie (Bernard Fortuin, CEO(chief executive of SAYA) and he got to know I was an accountant. He kept me on as the accountant and manager of the place. I also do a bit of maintenance.”
Teens from broken homes and drug-affected families come to the campsite on Mondays to Wednesdays. It is also rented out over weekends for functions.
Rajman said he no longer had to lie to his family and tell them he was okay.”Being on the streets made me a stronger person, but this job has got me out of a hole.”