A couple who found love in a Strandfontein temporary shelter for the homeless plan to marry this Saturday.
When Merle Wildschut, 32, laid eyes on Leeroy Alexander, 34, with his long locks, in a tent at the shelter, they got to talking, and the rest is history.
Merle grew up in Elsies River. Two weeks before lockdown, she ended up on the streets of Simon’s Town, fleeing an abusive relationship.
Leeroy was raised in Delft by his late grandmother, but after getting mixed up with the wrong people, he started abusing drugs. Over the space of six years, he was in and out of prison for armed robbery and selling drugs.
“Growing up, I thought my family didn’t care about me. To face my problems, I did drugs and ended up on the streets in Cape Town. I wasn’t living a good life, but I quickly realised I needed to get my life back together after I was released from prison.”
The couple say they were treated well at the City of Cape Town’s Strandfontein temporary emergency shelter. “They didn’t treat us like homeless people; we could shower – that was the best part,” says Merle.
“Covid-19 came with a lot of restrictions but they made us feel at home, with games and extra-mural activities.”
She says Leeroy has changed how she sees men.
“I have been through some tough battles… I am so happy I found Leeroy.”
After the shelter closed in May, the couple were part of a group of 30-odd homeless people chosen for a rehabilitation programme run by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) at the Rotary Camp in Strandfontein. They now have a small car-wash business and make decorations for special occasions out of empty beer bottles.
They got engaged on Sunday August 23 at the camp’s Kingdom Christian Church.
Leeroy got down on one knee to propose, but when he didn’t have a ring to give Merle, a woman in the congregation gave hers.
Ricardo De Reuck, director of the Cape Flats branch of the YMCA, says the rehab programme is helping Merle and Leeroy get their lives back on track.
The couple enjoy watching movies and doing art together. Leeroy writes songs and composes music.
“We balance each other out,” says Merle. “He took all the hurt away. We’ve known each other for six months; it’s been the best six months of my life, and I am looking forward to the next journey together.”
Leeroy adds: “You need to honour the woman you love; treat her with respect and make her feel special.”
If you would like to donate to the couple’s wedding, call Natalie De Reuck at 084 250 0860.