Cape Town - Carlos Filipe Mesquita’s journey symbolises the epitome of a world filled with second chances.
After having had the perfect view from his apartment in Sea Point, Mesquita went downhill to being rockbottom: sitting in a prison cell, awaiting trial for either being in possession of drugs or suspected stolen goods.
Coming back to a world that had moved on without him, Mesquita had no choice but to brave the cold pavements of Sea Point as his “skarrel ground” for five years, before being escorted to Strandfontein, where his life took a 180-degree turn, not only for him, but for many other homeless people whose voices were not being heard during the pandemic.
“At Strandfontein, out of pure frustration with the horrendous conditions and suffering going on, a group of us came together and formed a committee to try and improve the circumstances. Those six weeks felt like six years and saw SHAC (Strandfontein Homeless Action Committee) take the City to court and win. All we were asking for was that the city keep us accommodated with services for the duration of the lockdown, as had been promised when we were told to go to Strandfontein.
“Unfortunately, the City did not honour the court order and we were blessed when 168 of us were offered accommodation by the then CEO of Community Chest, who offered us accommodation at their offices in the centre of town.
“That was where the big change happened. We were given complete control of the situation, agency and decision-making time, of how our lives would need to look in the future. By the time we had to leave the Community Chest building, I had spoken to and convinced Mr [Lorenzo] Davids to support an initiative whereby homeless people would look after themselves with support services.
“This was the beginning of Our House, an independent living space for homeless people. We were initially totally funded by Community Chest, and the funding was adjusted as we progressed through the programme. Given the impact that Covid-19 had on their donations, I approached the people that had been supporting us throughout this journey to help me set up a non-profit entity and this was the birth of The Rehoming Collective,” said Mesquita.
Fast forward to today, Mesquita spearheads a project called The Homeless Hub, which sees homeless people get their IDs and driving licences, receive legal assistance, and teaches them skills such as sewing, beading, carpentry and hair braiding.
Wilma Piek, social development manager at the Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District (VRCID), said that given Mesquita’s past, he remains a social entrepreneur and excels in developing alternative pathways out of homelessness.
“His organisation is mostly for the homeless by the homeless, which means that most people in his organisation have been living on the streets as well and know what they are talking about.
“Mesquita is a talented and compassionate person, and although he has experienced the trauma of living on the streets, he is really making a difference and fighting for those still struggling with homelessness. He is not perfect (none of us are), but his fighting spirit and creativity in solving homelessness is an inspiration,” said Piek.
Mesquita added that as someone who had worked in the homeless sector before he became homeless himself, he would not be following due course if he didn’t share his experiences and suggested a new way to re-home the homeless with dignity.
“I had spent the last quarter of the year attending the Inkathalo Conversations, and if there was one thing we all agreed upon when the process was finally over, it was that the system of housing homeless people in Cape Town wasn’t bent; it was broken.
“The Homeless Hub will not only be a drop-in zone and upliftment centre but also the centre where the homeless, the CID, business and community come together to address the serious issue of a solution-based challenge – homelessness –and is inspired by all the desires I had as a homeless man on the streets of Cape Town for just over five years,“ said Mesquita.