In March this year I went through an experience that changed my life.
I became homeless.
It was only for 5 days but the effect it had on me will never be forgotten. This is what if felt like to be without a home, a cellphone, money and transport in light of the Live Under the Line Challenge:
I didn’t have R10 a day like you guys. I had nothing. Technically I couldn’t even afford the shelter fees, but they let me in each night and in return I worked the garden or helped the kitchen. The food was plentiful but it was unclean. It took only 24 hours before my stomach turned against me and lets just say the bathrooms were vile. I would have taken less food if I could be promised it was clean but I had no choice. It was either eat and hope I don’t get sick - or be hungry. The latter sounded worse. Being hungry was a problem I could always resolve. Check the fridge. Check the cupboards. Check the fridge again. A quick dash to the shops. But in the shelter that wasn’t an option. You were bound by it’s rules. Breakfast at 07:00. Dinner at 18:00. No food allowed in the dorms. No food allowed in your locker. Occasionally we would get dessert if Virgin Active Snack Bar or Pick n Pay donated their past-sell-by-date food that no one bought. It was something we all looked forward to. They usually reserved it for Sunday night after church.
What happens when you run out of milk and the shops are closed - Ask the neighbour? Phone a friend? The biggest difference I noticed when becoming homeless is the lack of community. There is no teaming up for LUTL meals in the homeless world. You can’t tell your buddy to bring the salad and you’ll grab the rolls. You don’t trust anyone. Repeat line for emphasis. You do not trust anyone. You live for yourself. You stick to the rules and hope no one gives you beef. When you live on the street or in the shelter you watch your back. Always. Favours are currency and if you’re in debt then you’re expected to do anything.
It was difficult going to back to society. You notice the homeless a lot more. You realise why people sleep in the park or eat out of bins. ‘Funny money’ is a career. Selling newspapers is a job. The biggest thing that changed for me was understanding the homeless a lot more. Give them grace. Don’t accuse as much. When a man is scratching in your bin looking for things to eat or sell, speak to him. Find out his story. Don’t just chase him away. Learn about shelters and how they work. Volunteer at organisations. Donate money. Play a role in changing this city. It’s the least you can do.