On my way to work this morning I saw a homeless hoarder.
She was on the pavement arranging her massive hoard of probably
worthless worldly goods. Most of it was in black bags tied to a supermarket
trolley, which must have been under there somewhere. This woman was obviously
homeless, dishevelled, but clearly very concerned about her massive stash of
goods. This has to be the saddest thing I have ever seen. A homeless hoarder.
We are so accustomed to images of poverty and suffering in
this country that it takes something startling to penetrate our usual defences.
Hoarders are notorious for collecting masses of worthless
stuff – old newspapers, empty yoghurt containers, broken appliances, old
magazines, clothes no one will ever wear again. Some hoarders ‘specialise’: you
find animal hoarders, hoarders of empty beer cans, old machine parts and so
forth. It seems to be a form of
depression that responds to medication for obsessive compulsive disorder.
This woman must have had close on a hundred kilos’ worth of
stuff in her trolley. It was obviously a heavy load and difficult to manoeuvre.
But she would probably defend it with
her life. And provide shelter it before she took care of herself. Many hoarders
say they are saving things for a rainy day. This woman’s rainy day has arrived,
but none of this stuff is likely to be of any use to her. On the contrary.
The need for shelter
Shelter is such a basic human need and in South Africa it is
estimated that between 7,5 million and 10 million people live in informal
housing – often without access to basic services and sanitation. It is also
estimated that the government has indeed provided three million housing units
since it came to power, but the backlog remains
All of this got me thinking about what it would mean to be
homeless and destitute. And how much one should appreciate one’s home, which,
in most cases, provides safety, shelter and security. A place of one’s own, or
even just a room that is yours. I don’t think any of us could imagine what it
must be like to be without this until we’ve actually been on the streets.
(Speaking of a home of one’s own, I have received several
queries from users asking about an update on the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary,
where I adopted a donkey several years ago, and about which I wrote two
columns.[I have adopted a new donkey called Bella after Spokie died.]
I am happy to report that the sanctuary has recently
acquired a home of its own – enabling them to provide a wonderful sanctuary for
these formerly neglected and destitute animals. Click right here if you want to find
out more. I promise it will make you feel better.
Many of these magnificent creatures come from the worst
circumstances of neglect, abuse and/or cruelty. Supposedly a route which many
people who find themselves homeless have also followed.)
The homeless hoarder
But to me the saddest thing about the homeless hoarder, is
that even if she had a house, her hoarding habits would quickly make it
And as social structures and infrastructure in our country
deteriorate, someone like her becomes less and less likely to be at the
receiving end of multi-faceted treatment and social programmes that could lead
to reintegration and appropriate medical care.
What kills me is that I know that I will drive past her
again and again in the months to come, and eventually, for the sake of my own
sanity no longer see her.
Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer for Health24.