‘It’s possible to end chronic homelessness’

“In order to impact on homelessness, we have to offer permanent and sustainable solutions.”

So says Carlos Mesquita, founder of CM Homeless Consultant and Homeless Solutions, an organisation that aims to end homelessness.

Mesquita, who lived on the street for six years, believes homelessness can be solved.

“We have to start seeing homelessness as a state and not a trait. We cannot keep on believing that offering a bed at a shelter or safe space is the best we can do. Those individuals remain homeless.

“A shelter only provides a temporary solution. The solution to homelessness is not a shelter, it is a sense of belonging.”

World Homeless Day was marked on Monday 10 October.

To commemorate the day and empower people living on the street, Mesquita – in partnership with various individuals and organisations – launched multiple projects.

Mesquita explains that the H’Art (Homeless Art from the Heart) project sees people living on the street given the resources to create art pieces. The artwork will be displayed in cafés and restaurants around the city because, he says, people living on the street are often not allowed inside these establishments.

“We decided to do this so that homeless people do enter these places by virtue of their art. The idea is for society to see something good from homeless people as well. When I was homeless, I got to know a lot of people who started drawing and painting and they created some of the most beautiful works.”

Another upliftment project, MyCitiCapeTown, was launched on Thursday 29 September at Tent City in Sea Point.

Taking the form of a photographic competition, participants are asked to show the world through a homeless person’s lens.

“For this project, we will give 100 disposable cameras, which were sponsored, to people living on the stree. They send in photographs that photographers will judge. A photographic workshop will also be done with them. We are hoping to get interesting photos through the eyes of a homeless person to show the other side of Cape Town, the beautiful side.”

Mesquita says the goal is to use the photo entries to compile a calendar.

“The idea is that all the photos that will be submitted are going to be available online. We will launch a calendar at the end of the year. The proceeds from the calendar sales will go to the top 24 participants.”

According to Mesquita, they are also compiling a documentary titled “10×10=100” (10 questions, 10 minutes, 100 homeless people).

“This is a documentary where 100 people living on the street will answer 10 questions which are often posed to them by society. They each have 10 minutes to answer the questions. Every homeless person has a story to tell.”

Mesquita published a provisional 10-year concept plan to end chronic homelessness in Cape Town. He describes it as a planning framework that is widely used in different sectors (environment, health care), by industry and the government as a strategic planning practice with clear targets and measurable outcomes.

“The Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness model was pioneered in the United States, first by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, when they released ‘A Plan, not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years’ in 2000.”

He adds: “This document, which drew heavily on emerging evidence regarding how to effectively reduce and end homelessness, was meant to inspire communities across the country to change their focus from ‘managing’ homelessness to ‘ending’ it through a strategic shift towards prevention and rehousing.”

Mesquita encourages people to support reputable organisations and individuals who support people living on the street.

“Inform yourself before you commit to supporting an organisation or an individual and make sure that they are working towards ending chronic homelessness.

“If we are not physically contributing to get people off the street then we are wasting money. People must realise that it is possible to end chronic homelessness. Work with those who know how to get people off the street.”

He says the government must do more to end homelessness.

“We need to start pressurising the provincial government to start investing in a homeless ladder of accommodation for the homeless. And we must stop being judgemental and stop rejecting people, we must rather be inclusive.

“It is our judgement and exclusion that results in people becoming homeless in the first place.”

Mesquita challenges people to be a bit more tolerant of people living on the street.

“Just acknowledge a homeless person who you normally wouldn’t. Like in society there are criminals among the homeless, I am not asking you to do something that will make you feel uncomfortable. But just do that little extra. If you do it for a week, I promise you a reaction from that person will make you feel good.”

Mesquita says caring and fighting for the rights of homeless people is challenging, but, he says, it’s something he will continue to do “because I made a promise to God and myself”.