thislife issue 11: I'll never LOOK BACK
JEROME GEORGE (26) was born in Cape Town and educated at Jan van Riebeeck Primary School in Cape Town, where his mother worked as a cleaner. She died when he was 12 and shortly thereafter his father sent him to Oudtshoorn to live with family members. At 16 he moved back to Cape Town to stay with relatives in Mitchell’s Plain. Here he tells how he ended up living on the streets, but finally managed to claw his way out of his situation to live a life of purpose and dignity…
When I moved to live with my uncle and aunt in Mitchell’s Plain, there was a lot of unstableness there. My aunt and uncle drank a lot and I was drinking then too. They were partying all the time. On a few occasions they were drunk and I was drunk, and then we fought and they put me out for no real reason.
One Friday night, my uncle came back from work already drunk and I don’t know why, but he beat me up and kicked me out. I thought to myself, ‘Enough is enough. I’m going to look after myself and see what’s out there.’
I slept on the streets for a while, there in Mitchell’s Plain. At the beginning I’d sleep by the police station or the train station, because I didn’t really know what I must do. In some ways, you’re kind of free. You sleep here one night, there another night. Sometimes you make friends on the street, nice people, and they say it’s fine, you can sleep there by them.
Then one day a guy directed me to The Ark in Eerste River. It’s like a shelter, but you don’t have to pay. I was under age and still had a black eye from when my uncle beat me up, so they took me in. I was about 17 at the time. Maybe my aunt and them in Oudtshoorn would’ve taken me in, but by that time I had made up my mind to make a life for myself in Cape Town.
After maybe a year at The Ark, I decided to go back to Mitchell’s Plain. I thought that it would have calmed down. When I got there, my uncle and aunt were sitting drinking with friends and I went and sat on the couch with them, but my uncle just got up, walked out and came back with a pickaxe handle. He hit me with it, out of the blue, in front of all his friends. According to him I’d said something to him or I’d looked at him funny or something, so he gave me one across the arm. My arm felt totally lame. I thought to myself, ‘No, this is not right.’ I thought I might even get killed there. I was scared and very upset by the whole thing. I knew I could survive on the street so, that same night, I left again.
I couldn’t go back to The Ark immediately. They do take people back, but not straight-away, so I walked around, looking for casual jobs. I have an aunt in Grassy Park and I stayed with her a few times. She built me up a lot, but she also said I couldn’t stay there. I slept wherever, usually moving around so the police wouldn’t bother me.
Then I got a casual job in Parow and stayed out there for a while. Someone told my father where I was working and he came round to see me once, but then he disappeared again. I lived in a shelter in Woodstock for a while, but when my contract ended I was forced to move out as it cost R20 a night. It was back to the streets again. But I was in a good place, on the right track. The idea of being out there on my own was scary, but I was determined to stay on the good track that I was on.
After a while, I went back to The Ark. At The Ark they tell you not to worry about the family who don’t want you back or about the friends that party. When I stayed there the first time, they encouraged me to look to God for help and to stay away from bad friends and all that. They tell you, ‘Don’t look back, just look forward and everything will work out.’ This started off a kind of process with God in me.
During my second time at The Ark I realised who God really is. I now know that if there’s no one for you, there’s one person who will never turn His back on you and that’s the Lord. You can’t do it on your own! I made a commitment to Him and, since that time, I’ve never looked back.
While I was at The Ark, I came across a street sweeper organisation and I got in and did that for a while. I worked myself up and became a foreman. Eventually, they recommended me to U-turn, which helps the homeless. They get to know street people – who they are and why they’re on the street. Then they help you rehabilitate, training you in life skills and putting you in different work teams. Finally, they help you get steady employment and a place to stay. I’ve been through the programmes and I’m now a driver for their laundry team. I work a full day, from 8:30 to 5, mostly driving around, doing deliveries and pickups. I like my job.
I’ve moved out of the shelter and live on my own in a granny flat in Diep River. Well, not completely on my own: I have a puppy called Rex! I found him one day while we were busy cleaning graffiti walls in Valhalla. He was just sitting there on the corner and I asked his owner if I could buy him from her. She said, ‘Why don’t you just take him?’ so I did. He comes to work with me a lot so everyone at
U-turn knows and loves him.
I’m happy with my life now. I feel all these things happened for a reason and I give all the glory to God. Without his love and power, I won’t make it.’