Homeless share stories of hope

Guest speaker was activist and author of the book Exit, Grizelda Grootboom.
Homeless people told their stories during a World Homelessness Day event hosted by the City of Cape Town, at Goodwood Civic Centre. Video: Karen Watkins

Brinley Hector grew up wanting to ride a bicycle. His passion for cycling grew – he rode in an ultra bike marathon overseas, two Cape Epics and 13 Cape Town Cycle Tours.

But all the while, he was grappling with a deep trauma from his past: he was first raped by a relative when he was 7. At 13 it happened again.

Mr Hector became a drug addict, he lost his sponsorships and lived on the streets, scavenging for money for drugs.

After almost being forced into a gang, he went to a homeless shelter in Napier Street. It was the start of a journey from one shelter to another. Then came Covid-19. He ended up at the temporary shelter in Strandfontein but soon left.

Moving around, he met George Nakedien, manager of Bellville Night Shelter who asked him to give him his life for three months. Now Mr Hector is six months clean, still at the shelter and ready to help others off the streets.

Mr Hector, of Sarepta, Kuils River, was one of the homeless people who told their stories during a World Homelessness Day event hosted by the City of Cape Town, at Goodwood Civic Centre.

Tuesday’s event was supposed to see the launch of an interim report to address the needs of the homeless community and a path towards sustainable solutions. This after a two month stakeholder-engagement process to review the City’s 2013 street people policy. However, mayoral committee member for community services and health, Zahid Badroodien, said the report would now be published in November.

Dr Badroodien said people left their homes and families for different reasons, including drug addiction and physical abuse.

“We have to understand the reasons for them being homeless; not all of them choose to be there,” he said. “We need to listen to them, to see if the programmes are working. If they aren’t, then we need to improve them.”

Alfonso Sauls, of the City’s safe spaces programme, said the City’s street people unit has been split into four smaller branches – a move, he said, that would hopefully make it more effective.

Theodore Lott also ended up living on the streets going from one shelter to another after leaving his family Atlantis. At Kensington Night Shelter, then manager Chrislene Sadan encouraged him to get his driver’s licence. But he ended up on the streets again and then at Bellville Night Shelter under Mr Nakadien’s wing.

He had gone through all the programmes, he said, finding that none applied to his life. Reunification had not worked for him, his family were done with him, he said, so now he was trying to reintegrate back into society. He said the Expanded Public Works Programme had helped him to drive again and he was now 175 days clean.

Guest speaker Grizelda Grootboom spoke of her early childhood in Woodstock. With the death of her mother, her dad turned to alcohol. She learnt to survive on the streets before moving to Johannesburg to start a new life. Instead she was tied up, gang raped for two weeks and forced to work as a sex slave. What followed was a hand-to-mouth life of being pimped and using drugs to sustain herself. She is now an activist and author of Exit!, which tells the story of her life of prostitution and how she escaped from it.