Winter worry on the streets

Denzil Williams lives in Parow's streets.

Winter is upon us and many homeless people in Goodwood and Parow can be seen huddling together in shop entrances along Voortrekker Road to keep warm.

Denzil Williams, 26, who sleeps in front of a shop in Parow, speaks about his plight as he “skarrels” along Tallent Street.

Denzil was a teenager when he left his home in Elsies River.

“I could not live the life I wanted to. I am a transvestite, and I didn’t feel comfortable living at home, due to my sexual orientation.”

Living on the streets is hard, he says, especially during winter. “We put cardboard, on the ground and cover ourselves with three blankets to keep warm at night.”

Nobody messes with him on the streets, he says, but he had a run-in with the police recently when they found a makeshift weapon on him.

“I told them it wasn’t mine, and they just confiscated it and left me alone. I skarrel to get by. It’s the only thing I can do to survive.”

He says his friends help to keep him going “I don’t like going to the shelters, even though living on the streets is difficult.”

Denzil wanted to be a social worker when he was younger, but he says his dreams fell apart after he left home.

Joseph Morkel*, 42, huddles under pieces of cardboard in Dingle Road. He has lived on Goodwood’s streets for two years.

“Gangsterism in Bishop Lavis led me to the streets. I got caught up with the wrong people and went to jail. After jail, I came to stay on the streets to get away from it all.”

Joseph works as a car guard to survive.

“I sleep on two blankets and I have another three to keep me warm. If it rains, we sleep in front of a shop along Voortrekker Road.

“My girlfriend works for a family in the area, and we are hoping to get a wendy house in Riebeeck Street at the end, of the month,” he says.

Hilton Abrahams, 55, stays at the Elim Night Shelter in Elsies River.

He shivers in the cold as he tells how he is sad to be separated from his wife and three children.

“My children are getting sick from the cold and they cannot be with me which is making me sick.”

He pulls up his flimsy jersey to reveal a scar on his stomach. “Next month, I am scheduled to undergo a second stomach operation at Tygerberg Hospital.”

He hopes to find work on a farm one day, away from the city and its torments.

“I get cold all the time, and my legs pain due to the cold. I am always stressing. I wish I could get a job on a farm, maybe in Ceres, where I can look after the animals and get out of this city. “I feel suicidal at times and often think about ending my life. I do part-time work at houses in the area to get money.”

He pays R30 a night to stay at Elim and has to be in at 5pm.

The shelter’s social worker, Andrit Jeneke, says it is working with the City to prepare for an influx of homeless people during winter. Normally, the shelter has 17 occupants but it will be making room for an extra 15.

Elim doesn’t take children but will refer them to “necessary available resources” in the community and the Department of Social Development.

“The homeless suffer a lot during the cold winter months as they are not allowed to sleep just anywhere,” says Andrit. “Their access to food and shelter is also very limited and they don’t have any place to store their clothing and belongings when it rains.”

Elim will be handing out blankets this winter and doing what it can to offer some respite to the homeless turning to it for help, says Andrit.

“If we have reached capacity, we allow the homeless to come and have a hot shower; provide them with clothes from out thrift shop and give them a hot meal.”

Ward 26 councillor Franchesca Walker says the City is working with 18 shelters, giving them extra mattresses and other resources to help the homeless during winter and get as many of them off the streets as possible.

“The City provides 68 Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) opportunities to help with the increased workload related to the increase in capacity at the shelters and supplements the shelters’ groceries, toiletries and bedding to the value of R950 000.”

Meanwhile the City’s social services directorate will be helping the homeless get IDs and access to social grants, reunite with their families and find work.

The councillor is urging the homeless to go to a shelter instead of sleeping on the streets this winter.

* Call Elim Night Shelter at 021 591 2824 to find out how you can help.

*This name has been changed.