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