Pave­ments rough on the dis­abled

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - LEILA SAMODIEN

MERVYN DRA­MAT spent most of his child­hood think­ing he had a se­vere bone dis­ease. For his first nine years, he was in and out of hos­pi­tal.

“I’d ask my fa­ther, ‘Daddy, why do I walk like this?’ and they would tell me I have po­lio,” he said.

When he turned 10, his aunt fi­nally told him the truth – his mother had fallen back­wards, with him strapped to her back, while she and his fa­ther were out on a drunken binge.

Dra­mat ran away from home and never went back. Now 39 years old, he has lived on the street ever since. He walks on crutches, but moves more quickly in his wheel­chair.

He’s been through a string of night shel­ters, and had a cou­ple of stints in prison, once for throw­ing a brick through a shop win­dow in a drug-in­duced high.

At first, Dra­mat lived with skol­lies, try­ing to learn the tricks to sur­viv­ing on the street. Then, he re­alised the street wasn’t for him.

He put up at shel­ters – un­til re­cently.

“I don’t like the food and the way they treat me as a dis­abled per­son,” he said. “To pay for that ev­ery month just isn’t worth it.”

Gen­er­ally, the cost of liv­ing at The Haven Night Shel­ter is R20 a day if you’re em­ployed, R10 a day if you’re out of work and R700 a month if you re­ceive a dis­abil­ity grant.

Dra­mat gets a monthly R1 080 dis­abil­ity grant. But he is un­will­ing to part with al­most two-thirds of his grant for a shel­ter.

“Why should we be pay­ing so much when the shel­ters are sub­sidised by the govern­ment or the Lotto Fund?” he asked.

Has­san Khan, CEO of The Haven, said the shel­ter – which is part of a net­work of 27 shel­ters around Cape Town – al­lowed peo­ple to stay for five days for free, al­low­ing them to find their feet and ear n money.

“Dur­ing sum­mer, there’s lots of peo­ple liv­ing on the street. The weather’s bet­ter, there are lots of tourists and peo­ple are more gen­er­ous,” said Khan.

“But the longer you en­able peo­ple to live on the street, the eas­ier it is for them to put away the idea of get­ting back to their fam­i­lies, into their com­mu­ni­ties, or into a shel­ter.

“Our aim is not just to tend to peo­ple’s phys­i­cal needs, but also to so­cially and emo­tion­ally rein­te­grate them into their fam­i­lies.”

Dra­mat’s mother has since died, but his fa­ther is still alive. Dra­mat doubted he would see him again.

“I hate them for ly­ing to me,” he said. “I al­ways will.”

PIC­TURE: DAVID RITCHIE

TOUGH LIFE: Mervyn Dra­mat, who is in a wheel­chair, tells of his dif­fi­cul­ties liv­ing on the street with a dis­abil­ity.

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