A few home truths from the homeless

Bundled up in blankets beneath the bridge in Muizenberg, is a growing community of homeless people who are a regular sight.

They are not, however, ig-nored – nor forgotten.

The Muizenberg Improvement District is one of many groups or organisations committed to finding workable solutions for all those who are homeless.

Their names are known, they have been approached and offered shelter – most, however, have been on the street for well more than 10 years.

This, they tell you, is their way of life.

Kobus Links and Elizabeth September are two of the people who sleep under the bridge. They say many people over the years have tried to get them into shelters, but as Kobus says: “They are rich people’s places, we don’t like to live there.”

They say people are, on the whole, kind to them.

“They bring us soup in the winter, when it’s cold you know, they make sure we have got food to eat,” Kobus says.

Elizabeth says: “A white lady, a pensioner, offered for us to live with her in exchange for us cleaning her house and garden, but she hasn’t come back since we spoke that day.”

She says: “My biggest dream, is to have a room – just a room, to sleep in. A roof over my head. A lot of people think it’s too dangerous to employ people like us, but we would work happily to just have that. Get up, clean the house, sit in the afternoon sun a little bit. That’s a good life,” Elizabeth says.

Kobus says the people who sleep under the bridge are a mix of people. “They are good, and then when they have a bit of this,” he gestures taking a drink, “then they can be unbalanced, you understand?”

But it’s cold, so everybody shares the space. “Things happen, and that’s just life. Sometimes they are good things, sometimes not,” he says.

Mario Rix was pushing a loaded trolley near the pharmacy in Muizenberg, with Kevin Jacobs and Shanklind Smith.

Mario says he was fine to tell his story and speak with and for his friends, but he didn’t really see the point.

“Over the years many people have come and asked us who we are, what we need, but they go away and then the next people come, and ask the same questions, and so it goes,” he says.

“Meanwhile the people live under the bridge for more than 10 years, sometimes for 20 years – some of them – and nothing changes.

“The only thing that does change is that the numbers under the bridge grow,” he says.

Mario says he lives in a shack with his girlfriend and their two children, and his girlfriend’s father’s three children.

Of these, only one child, 11 years old, is in school.

“I do the best I can to keep him in school. He is our hope, he is the future. It’s hard to just keep everyone fed, but he must stay in school, he must have a better life than us,” he says.

“Most people who live on the street ended up (here) because of life at home. Addictions and alcoholic parents and such. Even my girlfriend’s father, he left his kids with us because he is with the bottle.”

“I could tell you what it’s really like, but there’s no point.

“Even if people want to help me, where would they find me? And to tell you the whole story, the truth… there just aren’t enough pages in your book,” he says.

Kevin Jacobs sits up. He’s been lying on the pavement with a shirt over his face, listening. “I can’t sleep at night. It’s too dangerous, so I try to sleep in the day,” he explains. He says he has a mother and siblings, but his stepfather has no time for him, so he can’t be with them.

He has nowhere to go, he says. Mario says: “He won’t tell you himself, but his stepfather abuses him, terribly. He can’t dare go there.”

Kevin is now a backyard dweller. He can’t find work. He looks at my camera, tells me he wants to be a photographer.

Mario interjects, says: “Look, he tells you that but he doesn’t have any idea what that means, it’s a problem when people are illiterate. He thinks being a photographer is just pointing a camera at things and pushing a button. He doesn’t know anything about business or what it really involves.”

Kevin falls back onto the pavement, giggling, and the shirt is drawn back over his face.

He is unperturbed by Mario’s comments.

Mario says among the many people who come ask questions, are some who want them to convert to religion.

“I don’t need converting,” he said. “I go to church on my own, God is necessary in my life,” he says.

Shanklind says he was stabbed 20 years ago. He refers to himself as disabled, and says he has spent all the years since the stabbing, on the streets.

“We live day to day. Sometimes people are kind. Sometimes they are not,” he says, shrugging.

He says his injury prevented him from working, and his family cannot support him. He says he is known on the streets as “One arm”.