Project gives dignity to Bothasig homeless

Bettie van Schalkwyk and partner Abe Davids sleep rough in Bothasig where they do odd jobs during the week.

Hendrik “Hoender” Koopman grew up in Philippi, and moved to Atlantis where he worked as a bricklayer.

Later he found himself unemployed and out on the streets.

He was one of the people moved to Wolwerivier from the Richwood bush.

“There’s no work there”, he says, so he spends his week in Bothasig, where he earns money doing recycling, with his dog, Boy, at his side.

“I send a few cents home every day,” he explains. When he makes R150 a day, R100 is taken to his wife by the women from Wolwerivier working at a fisheries in Bothasig. Come Friday, he travels home for the weekend, walking to Dunoon where a taxi ride to Wolwerivier will cost R15 for him, and R10 for Boy.

He is sitting outside the fisheries when one of the women hands him off cuts from the chips they sell. A few minutes later Bothasig resident Neil White gives him a parcel from the fisheries. I ask why he helps a man probably seen as a nuisance by others.

“His dog is in good shape,” Mr White said, adding that his wife also gives food for Boy.

Mr White’s charity towards Hoender and Boy is not isolated.

Community worker Toni Tresadern started the Bothasig Dignity Project for the Homeless earlier this year – spurred on by a series of articles, by the same name, in the Cape Argus – which brought home the reality of what people living on the fringes of society cope with every day.

“People don’t want to see homeless people, let alone interact with them. They don’t want to think about how they became homeless and will often mention that these folk could succeed if they just tried and, of course, gave up drinking and drugging,” Ms Tresadern says.

But her job is not to judge – she has known some of them for more than 10 years – especially those from Richwood bush. They were moved to Wolwerivier in July 2014, but says Ms Tresadern, without socio-economic opportunities, they drift back to Bothasig to earn a living. It’s here where she, with help from people like Amy Vos and Monique Walmsley, and donors who help out with food or funds, find them on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons where they hand out sandwiches, soup and fruit, donated clothes and, when available, waterproof sleeping bags.

Edgemead Primary School chips in with sandwiches, while the Dutch Reformed Church has a feeding scheme on Tuesdays.

In between, the homeless eke out a living doing gardening work, or a char job for the women, such as Bettie van Schalkwyk, who sleeps on a “stoep” and says she “skarrels” on the days they don’t have work. With her partner, Abe Davids, she too returns to Wolwerivier over the weekend.

“There is no way to make a living there. Nobody can help us there. We don’t have a choice. Life is very hard there,” Mr Davids says.

Another man, Dean Bailey, lived in Brooklyn for more than 30 years, but now finds himself on the streets. He works as a janitor at a pub in Bothasig. “We’re not bad people,” he says of the community on the street.

The Dignity Project also helps out with toiletries and, if they’re willing to part with their clothing, Ms Tresadern gives it a much-needed wash at home. There are different spots around Bothasig where the homeless sleep. “All have different spots where they sleep according to the weather on the day,” she says.

Three dogs who live with their owners on the streets are also cared for.

“They are well-cared for and very much loved” by their owners, says Ms Tresadern. They are given food and a doggy salon in Bothasig even gave one canine, uLungu, a grooming session.

The project has called for the community’s buy-in as they need help with toiletries, disposable food containers, food stuffs, juice, washing powder and dog food.

“There are 30 to 40 homeless folk on the streets of Bothasig at any given time. This number is sure to grow as people lose jobs and homes in this economy. it would be fantastic if we could all reach out to those in need and in some small way make a difference,” says Ms Tresadern.