An old station wagon may not look like much to the outside world, but for Dane Herrington, a homeless man who has turned to his car for sanctuary, it is literally his entire world.
Gnawed by rust and missing a tail light or two, the white Ford Sierra has seen better days, but it’s the contents of the car that reveal it’s more than just a mode of transport.
A Bible popped on the dashboard, a calendar pinned over the radio, pots and cups and blankets littering the back seat, among other miscellany, are all tell-tale signs of a man’s life cramped into a car.
On and off, Dane has lived in his car for the past seven years, and he doesn’t see that changing any time soon.
“People don’t know how difficult it is for people like us who have no place to park our cars.”
That said, he admits it is “a lot worse for those without cars”.
Dane first appeared in Tabletalk five years ago to share his and his wife’s story about living in his car (“Couple call parking lot home,” Tabletalk, March 5, 2014). Since then, he has lost his long tresses and wife, whom he refers to as “estranged”.
A qualified horticulturist on the brink of 60, prospects look bleak for Dane, but undeterred, he visits the library every other day to look online for jobs.
At night, he takes refuge at a local petrol station.
“It’s noisy, but I have no choice.”
He is not alone. He is joined by at least four other people who also sleep in their cars at the garage at night. And there are more people sleeping along the beachfront too.
“We’re not supposed to park there, but we’re given permission because it’s a 24-hour parking zone. Every morning, I leave around 5.30am.”
He then heads to the Table View mall parking lot where he spends the day before driving back to the garage at night.
Dane believes he is a soft target for law enforcement, who he says regularly fine him and chase him from parking in the area.
Gianni Franco is one of the others sleeping in his car at the garage at night.
Gianni is from Parow and he’s going through a messy divorce. He agrees that law enforcement is “harassing” them. “Law enforcement gives me fines every day.”
Gianni says he’s been slapped with several fines for illegal parking and driving with an expired licence disc.
“We can’t have our licences renewed because we first have to pay our outstanding licence fees.”
Dane says vagrants living on the street pose a threat because they steal light bulbs from the cars while their homeless owners sleep.
He believes a safe space for people “stuck in their cars” will bring some relief.
“We don’t have any place to park. We need a place with an ablution block like they have at shelters. A place that will be under security and controlled by the council. I’d be willing to pay a small fee for a facility like that,” says Dane.
“We just want a safe place to sleep,” adds Gianni.
Richard Bosman, the City of Cape Town’s executive director for safety and security, says it’s illegal for someone to sleep in a vehicle overnight in a public place.
“Officers will take action if they come across these types of transgressions, especially if there are public complaints.”
Mayoral committee member for community services and Health, Dr Zahid Badroodien, says Dane can go to any of the shelters supported by the City’s winter-readiness programme.
Staff have been sent to the area to see if they can assist, he says, but adds that help offered to people sleeping in their vehicles by the City’s street people reintegration unit is mostly refused.
Dane will qualify for a state pension next year but until then, he says, he is “forced to skarrel” and will continue to live in his weather-beaten car.
“It’s been a challenge. It’s been very difficult to adjust to. I never thought I’d end up here.”