Some mornings, when the wind is blowing just right, I can smell the ocean all the way from the City Bowl. When it doesn’t blow, all I smell is urine.
Also read: More beds in “safe spaces” for Cape Town’s homeless
On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I’m often fortunate enough to hear live music echoing from De Waal Park.
On a noisy one, I sometimes hear screaming, swearing, sirens, and then, most terrifying of all, silence.
I love running the length of The Company’s Garden before taking my shoes off to feel the grass between my toes as I catch my breath.
I wish I didn’t have to put them on again before I walk home, but sadly, I don’t really have an option.
To many, the streets of Cape Town are paved with gold but littered with filth, faeces, foreign objects and forgotten souls.
We live in arguably the most stunning City in the world – a dirty and dangerous place where the haves and have-nots reluctantly live side by side in a constant state of disdain and distrust.
I love Cape Town, but I hate the fact that I always have to look over my shoulder and watch where I’m stepping. Most of all, I hate looking away.
Homelessness is ugly. It’s the problem child of the Mother City, an oozing pimple on the nose of a beauty queen.
Homelessness is heinous and harmful. It has no redeeming features. It needs to be addressed and eradicated for the sake of the indigent and affluent alike.
However, you can’t address homelessness with housing and hostility, residents’ ridicule, and resentment alone.
In order to address homelessness and find an effective solution, you first need to address the homeless, the hardships that landed them on the streets, and their mental health.
I’m too inexperienced to be empathetic. I don’t know what real hunger feels like. I’ve never been abused. I’ve always been loved, and I’ve never been made to feel subhuman. Everyone has options and choices. Mine have always been better than many others.
I’ve also always had access to proper healthcare and a support network to manage my mood disorder.
That’s why I’m able to moan about the people in parliament rather than being one of those sleeping in squalor next to it.
Housing won’t solve homelessness unless we address public mental healthcare services first.
A recent survey of 350 homeless Capetonians found that some two-thirds of the sample group suffer from serious mental health problems, substance abuse issues or a combination of the two. Neither can be resolved by putting a roof over your head.
In fact, forcing the forsaken into state-sanctioned shelters through court action and condemnation is tantamount to putting a Band-aid on a bullet wound. It may hide the injury, but the damage is done and will come back to haunt you.
I love Cape Town even with all its smells, sounds, sights and suffering.
Yes, it could be better. Homelessness is a problem, but it can’t be solved with dignified dormitories alone.
It’s going to take more than construction. It’s going to take careful consideration, compassion and care.
Instead of demanding that the City take people off the streets, we need to address how and why they ended up there in the first place.
We need to help the homeless and not simply try to hide them.
Cape Town is moving people off the streets. We asked homeless residents what they thought