Michael Yeltsin is a homeless man living in Cape Town – you’ll find him on Mill Street, just before heading onto the overhang connecting with De Waal Drive.
He’s often sitting pottering around with old wood & pallets that he’s collected throughout the night. He’s the happiest man you’ll meet, and creates magnificent works of art – many of which he only builds to then throw it away. When asked why he does this, he responded:
“I want to make money but more than that I want to make what people will love. I cut the corners of my wood to make it smooth, to make it safe. Safe for people. Friendly, yes yes yes friendly. When it’s not friendly I throw it away. There aren’t a lot of friendly people on the streets. The homeless people are friendly, but the people in the cars aren’t friendly. Some are, but a lot aren’t. People call me stupid, but I don’t know why. A lot of the people on the streets pretend to be stupid. Very very stupid, but they are clever more than stupid.
We know how to use a bank. Many many people in the streets is not even hungry because we can collect enough money to buy bread or food. Those are the nice people that give us money for that, but it’s more than that.
Most homeless people know what ATM’s are and how they work, but we go inside the bank to draw money even if there isn’t any money in my account. We wait in the queues and we get to the person in the glass, then we ask them how the ATM works.
The person tells me how it works, then I go outside and use it. I always know how the ATM works, but I go inside just to speak to the people that see me as a human because I’m their customer.
I’m not homeless when I go to the bank. I have no money, but they speak to me and I feel part of another world – the world that you’re from. It’s nice to be seen as if I’m a human.
We want to work but it’s very very hard to find work when people don’t want to even speak to you. I work sometimes for Fruit & Veg in their gardens but they can’t pay me anymore. I still work in the gardens because I like it and other homeless people do too. It’s nice to love other things and see them grow because you love them. I love my wood too only when it looks friendly, otherwise I throw it away [laughs]”.