What do the homeless do when weather like the #CapeStorm strikes?

This week’s #CapeStorm was said to be the worst storm to hit the Western Cape in three decades. It struck late on Tuesday night and continued off-and-on until Wednesday evening, resulting in at least eight deaths and damage to homes and property. People living in informal settlements are disproportionately affected by extreme weather conditions. But for those with no homes at all, there are no buffers to ease nature’s violent side.

On Wednesday morning, The Daily Vox visited Haven Night Shelter, a welfare organisation that provides shelter, food and aid to adult homeless people. At their Greenpoint shelter we spoke to five individuals who’ve been living on the streets of Cape Town to hear what the #CapeStorm was like for them.

Ezekiel Mayengedze, 27
Things have been very tough living outside in this particular weather. I’ve been sleeping outside for the last six months, currently I’m sleeping in a graveyard in Rondebosch and things are quite extreme there. Last night was a very cold night, a different night to what I’d experienced before. The wind was very strong, and you have to imagine I was sleeping in an open space, so the cold is very hard to describe. I was worried about my safety also, because I was sleeping around the trees for shelter. I thought that at any time a tree could actually fall and I’d be in danger. The rain also is a challenge because it adds to your body temperature dropping.

I’ve been coming to Haven’s Night shelter for some time now looking for a place to stay. They are helpful. If they are full, as they were last night at this particular shelter, they’ll try and put you up at another shelter. But it hasn’t worked out for me yet as I haven’t been able to secure a space anywhere. But I still think they play an important role because besides shelter they provide food and a place to be out of the cold even if they don’t have beds.

Hasan Khan, CEO of Haven Night Shelter Welfare Organisation, told The Daily Vox that 97% of all Haven shelters across the Western Cape were full on Tuesday night – made up of 1 135 people staying in Haven’s 15 shelters. The only shelter that hadn’t reached capacity was in Ceres.

Marcelino Oliphant, 36
For the last while I’ve been staying on Castle Road under the bridge. I came here to the shelter about three days back. To be honest with you it’s very tough and cold out there on the streets. It’s dangerous out there. I heard from a lady in Mitchell’s Plain about this place and she agreed to meet me to bring me here. But there was no place here last night so I was out in the storm without even a blanket. It was freezing cold. I was there around Parliament Street in the CBD. I didn’t get time to sleep at all last night, because the cold is too much, so I’d rather walk up and down to keep my body warm. My clothes were wet but luckily enough I have a dry sweater in my bag so this morning I was able to come to the shelter and change. Last year I was at home in Oudtshoorn but I came here looking for work. But I haven’t found one and have been on the streets since.

Sharming Wilson, 27
I’ve been on the streets for about a year, staying in the Bellville area. It was a little bit tough for me, but also I want to change my life. I want to get a permanent job and get on my legs. Last night with this cold front, I was up and down and came to the shelter looking for a place, but it isn’t easy. The coldness tears you apart. Even two days ago I was sleeping in Wynberg police station, at least I was safe there and I was thinking about my safety also. I moved this side from Bellville because it’s very dangerous there, a lot of gangsters there and drugs – I don’t want to be in that environment. Places like this shelter give you somewhere to go but are very important in weather like this. I don’t think anyone deserves to be on street in this weather, man, it’s too cold and you get sick, man.

Luyanda Qakana, 32
My problem is too much. I’ve been hearing voices ever since I was there in Khayelitsha. They treated me like a dog. So I’ve always been sleeping outside, but decided sleeping in the city is better. I decided to go from there [Khayelitsha] because it is safer here. So I was sleeping there in Sea Point, because sometimes when people are giving you too many problems, it’s better to go away. I lost my arm because they threw me from a train one night. It’s not right to be staying outside, but ever since I started getting problems it’s better to be staying out here. But it’s cold, so cold. This is my first time at the shelter. It was a white guy who sent me here because I was sleeping outside there in Sea Point yesterday. He pulled up the car and said I must come, then he took me here. White people, you know, are blessed. And some don’t like having people outside. So he just brought me here and signed me in.

Haven has a “Buy a bed” campaign where people can cover a person’s shelter fees for their first five nights, for R60. This helps sustain the organisation. The campaign especially targets homeless people with no income.

Luyanda Mbobi, 31
I’ve come from the Eastern Cape and I came here to Cape Town looking for work. But here in Cape Town I don’t have a place to stay. I have people I know, though they don’t have a place for me to stay. So I decided to be on the streets because I can’t always beg for a place with people who don’t want me there. I’ve been on the streets for eight months now, but last night was the first time I’d experienced such weather. It’s winter and cold now – I’ve got a fever and I’m sick. It’s raining and chaotic. You can’t go looking for jobs when it’s raining like this, because your clothes are wet and I don’t have clothes to change. If I go looking for a job I can’t go wet – it just doesn’t look good but also you get sick. This shelter is good, it’s warm, there’s no rain. I come here every morning for food before going out to try look for work.

Khan said Haven exists for two reasons. The first is to help adult homeless people get back on their feet so that they can return to their homes, family or communities. Secondly, Haven acts a “pipeline to the poor” where Haven’s surplus of resources for the shelter are sent out to where they may be needed. Haven prioritises sending goods to other shelters, old age homes, crèches and then to specific families in need.

Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Featured image by Mohammed Jameel Abdulla