Holding on to a dream called home


Gavin Fitzgibbon has roamed the streets, hustling to get by since he was 12. Now, 33 years later, not much has changed for him as he continues to struggle daily.

Some may see him on the streets and look the other way, giving little thought to how he ended up there, but this 45-year-old homeless man is determined to make a better life for himself and his “wife”, Sandra Bailey. He holds onto the hope that one day they will have a place they can call home.

On the other side of the coin, however, are Bellville residents’ mounting frustrations with the growing population of homeless people in their midst. The suburb now ranks among the top five areas in the metro with the largest numbers of street people, according to Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development.

At a Bellville Community Police Forum meeting on Thursday April 21, Ms Little spoke to various organisations about the challenges the City faces dealing with the issue. The City was doing a lot of work in the area, but residents who continued to give money, food and clothes to street people were hampering its efforts, she said.

“These people remain on the streets because they are earning money. I encourage residents to follow the City’s Give Responsibly Campaign,” she said.

The campaign advocates donating to shelters and organisations instead of giving hand-outs directly to homeless people.

Peter Cookson from the City’s social development department, which was established three years ago, spoke about the challenges the City faced at homeless hot spots at Tygerberg High School, South Street, and Elizabeth and Loevenstein parks.

In some cases, drug use, prostitution and gang activity had been noted.

Troy van Zyl from Bellville CPF asked why more funds could not be fed to law enforcement ment to tackle homelessness.

“There is no visible law enforcement in our area after 6pm. We can buy food, give money and all of those things, but who is protecting the residents who actually pay to live in the area?” he said.

Ms Little said it was hard to prosecute the homeless as they had no income or permanent addresses.

Bellville CPF chairman Hennie Koekemoer said: “There isn’t a quick fix to this issue; a coordinated effort is needed to tackle this … The community expects us as a forum to simply come in and remove the homeless.”

Ms Little said the City had employed 17 social workers to deploy at the 17 homeless hot spots in the city, of which Bellville and Parow top the list.

“The City receives over 1 800 calls a month across the metro, which needs to be attended to by their officials. The reintegration unit has only been in operation for 12 months.”

She said the unit had relocated 253 people to their communities of origin in December, and from January to March, 44 homeless people in Bellville had been relocated.

But the statistics quoted by the officialsmean little to Mr Fitzgibbon and other homeless people like him. He spends most of his time at the Bellville Market, another hotspot for the homeless in the area. He takes water from the Bellville Magistrate’s Court, which he uses to wash. He says he and Ms Bailey are waiting for a place at a shelter, but if they get in, they will have to move to Retreat.

“That is the only place where we could get onto the waiting list. It’s not easy being on the streets in winter, so we have no other choice.”

He says some shelters in Bellville charge up to R750 for a month and he can’t afford to stay there. He earns about R 2 000 a month scratching through bins, rubbish piles and by doing odd jobs.

Mr Fitzgibbon left school after completing Grade 4 and says that school just wasn’t for him. He then found himself hustling on the streets. He was 15 when he lost his right arm.

“I will never forget the day I lost my arm, Friday July 15 1987. I was working in butchery and something happened with the machine, and just like that, my arm was gone.”

He has not been able to get a proper job since then.

Giovanni Williams, 27, has been onthe streets for close to five years, after life took a turn for the worse for him and his family.

“We had a home in Delft , but when my parents got divorced, we were left without a house, and I had to find my own way.”

He spends his days walking around, looking for odd job or collecting scrap. He makes R50 sweeping Bellville’s streets, but this is not a regular income.

“We get shifts because there are a lot of people on the programme, so whenever I can get a shift, I take it.”

He sleeps on cardboard boxes at either the library or the market. He has been to the shelters but says they have a rotation policy to give everyone a chance. He pays R12 a night to stay at the shelter and often gets a meal from the local feeding schemes.

Mr Williams says he use to be an optimistic, upbeat person, but that changed since living on the streets. “I don’t make any plans, because I always end up being disappointed. You have to be strong living on the streets.”