Certain groups of people should not be classified as ‘the homeless’

Carlos Mesquita writes that certain groups of people should not be classified as ‘the homeless’. Photographer: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Carlos Mesquita writes that certain groups of people should not be classified as ‘the homeless’. Photographer: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 23, 2024


Writing about homelessness in Cape Town can become a bit depressing and disheartening, but in all I do and say, I try to offer suggestions and alternatives that will make it more bearable and sustainable for us all.

This week I am sharing an incident with you that clearly demonstrates the ills of our current system in trying to address homelessness. It is an incident that angered and disappointed me immeasurably but which, unfortunately, did not shock me.

It also validated my belief that we should stop looking at those living on the streets as the collective “the homeless” and make changes to the “one size fits all” model we employ to accommodate them.

We need to start looking at those living on the streets and accommodating them as individuals or groups of individuals experiencing homelessness that have different needs to come off the streets.

Francois Krause was an elderly gentleman that lived on the streets. He, like most people, who have experienced homelessness had tried shelters but had eventually come to the realisation that the detriments of staying at a shelter far outweighed the detriments of living on the streets.

He has a family that is aware of his staying on the streets but are financially not able to accommodate him.

He landed up in hospital two weeks ago. The family was notified on Monday that he was there.

On Wednesday they were notified that he had been discharged and were also provided with reference numbers pertaining to his having been collected by ER Services and subsequently being dropped off at a shelter or safe space.

The family tried to find out where he had been placed, but to no avail. That is when they called me. We spent all weekend phoning shelters and safe spaces. We phoned the head of the City of Cape Town’s street people’s unit and left numerous messages.

Eventually on Monday, someone from the street people’s unit called back but had no news.

Later on in the day, we received news and a photograph from a VRCID employee who had found Francois sitting behind the post office in Parow.

That afternoon, Francois confirmed he was prepared to go into accommodation. He also shared how he had been told to sign release forms at the hospital on Tuesday and was told to leave, although he could hardly walk. He said he moved along slowly but wasn’t feeling well and so decided to head for Parow, where a friend lives. He finally got to Parow -a week after he was discharged!

That night I phoned the gentleman from VRCID who had found him and notified us of his whereabouts and asked him whether I could liaise with him the next morning to physically get him to the accommodation I was arranging for him as part of our “restart”, Rapid Rehoming Programme.

I was busy making these arrangements the next morning when I received a call from the family to notify me that he had passed away.

This news angered me. And it upsets me to have to admit that it didn’t shock me. It just happens so often.

One of the suggestions I have made to the City is that they recognise that certain groups of individuals that are currently included in the collective they call “the homeless”, (all those living on the streets and staying in our temporary and emergency shelters and safe spaces), should not be classified as such.

The words “the homeless” and the temporary and emergency accommodation that is associated with those words, (which in effect are nothing more than large communal prison style dormitories for desperate people to sleep in at night and which afford those individuals no privacy or dignity), are not helping us in our quest to help our most vulnerable citizens.

The groups I am referring to are: the elderly, the disabled, those with mental health challenges, families and LGBTQI+ youth.

These groups should each be accommodated in separate, long term dignified and sustainable accommodation venues where specialised and group-specific services are offered in our pursuit to restore dignity and to uplift and empower its individual members.

The individuals in these groups are living on the streets and in shelters primarily because we as an uncaring society have rejected them-for being too old, too difficult to care for, too costly to care for, or in the case of the LGBTQIA+ youth, too foreign to align to some of our cultural beliefs.

These individuals cannot be blamed for having made wrong choices or bad decisions that saw them land up living on the streets.

They are in effect being punished for being exactly what they are and having no choice in the matter.

Unfortunately, if we keep them enslaved in homelessness, as our current system does, they will be exposed to the other ills that are present in a sub culture of people that are so desperately unhappy about their situation that they resort to anything that makes its inhumanity more bearable.

* Carlos Mesquita is a homeless activist and also works as a researcher for the Good party in the Western Cape Legislature

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

Cape Argus

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