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City Meeting to discuss social concerns

On Monday evening, more than 200 residents of Oranjezicht, Gardens, Vredehoek and Devil’s Peak packed into the hall at Good Hope Junior School to listen to a presentation by Alderman J-P Smith on the subject of homelessness in the City Bowl. The meeting was opened by Councillor Brandon Golding (Ward 77), and Councillor Dave Bryant (Ward 115) was also in attendance.
J-P started his presentation with an overview of what the legal position is and what the City has tried within that framework. He made it quite clear that Law Enforcement alone will not solve this problem. J-P also emphasised that there are no quick fixes!

Loitering is not a crime – the Constitution allows freedom of movement of all citizens and as a result a person can not just be removed by anybody. By-law offences are not arrestable offences, and Law Enforcement officials can only issue fines. However, without a proper address, if a fine is not paid, a warrant of arrest will not be signed off by a magistrate. It is also impossible for law enforcement officers to witness all by-law offences and the public who do need to make a statement before a fine can be issued.
Law Enforcement and the Social Reintegration Teams have on-going operations on a weekly basis to take down structures built by homeless people. The homeless are offered a basket of social services in an attempt to start the process of reintegrating people but in most cases this help is refused. They are not able to be at every hotspot each time but do rotate around to all of them. Legislation prevents them from removing the person or their personal belongings, and there is little they can do to prevent a person from rebuilding a structure. In most cases the homeless are back within an hour and have rebuilt their structures to the point that it appears that the structures were not removed in the first place. The City has a “ride along” policy which means that any member of the community can join them for these operations (after signing an indemnity waiver) to see first hand that these structures are removed and what exceptionally difficult work this is for the City’s teams.

People living on the streets are regularly profiled and fingerprinted and those with outstanding warrants of arrest or in breach of parole conditions are arrested and dealt with by SAPS.

It was also made clear that the policing of criminal offences can only be done by SAPS who have the vastly superior resource numbers and budget. More needs to be done by the Justice System and Correctional Services to enable people go into diversion programmes and have better options when released on parole so they do not end up back on the streets. The city is now investing in diversion programmes as the request to National Government to fulfull this part of their mandate is not working. There is also very little assisance from Immigration in dealing with the many illegal immigrants who are now sleeping on our streets, this needs vastly better management which would include a refuge assessment centre.

While not abandoning Law Enforcement routines, the City has been exploring other possible solutions and is investing more heavily in social development options which have shown a far greater success rate.
The most recent survey of homelessness shows that there are some 7500 homeless people across the Greater Cape Town municipal area, of which some 700 live in the CBD. Key areas of concern in the City Bowl are De Waal Park (above and below Camp Street), Van Riebeeck Park, The Kraal and Stroompie; as well as the Castle, Culembourg and the Grand Parade.

The homeless population consists of several components: local residents who have lost their homes or cannot live with their families due to lack of employment, illness or substance abuse; gangterism forces people out of their own environment; the search for economic opportunity draws both South Africans and foreign nationals to Cape Town; and there are regular releases from our prisons.
There are currently some 2500 beds available at shelters run by NGOs. Due to budget constraints, the NGOs working in this arena are not able to open more shelters, but the City is looking at ways of helping them to expand existing shelters to increase bed capacity. The Western Cape is the only province that allocates budget to NGOs in this sphere.

Research has shown that homeless people are very resistant to going into shelters due to the way they are run. Seventy-five percent of people approached are not interested in the assistance being offered. Amongst the reasons for this are that family units do not want to split up into separate quarters; and many people do not want or are unable to give up the use of alcohol or drugs to stay in a shelter, and the shelters will not allow pets.
The City is busy developing a Safe Spaces concept and one of the pilot sites will be at Culembourg on the Foreshore. This will have ablution facilities, lockers, a food kitchen, medical and counselling services, access to EPWP work and other social assistance. The idea is that people can use the facilities and be safe overnight but they must vacate the property during the day. There will be a flexible attitude towards alcohol and couples will be able to stay together. Eighty-five percent of those interviewed said that they would consider using the space, but it is not a foregone conclusion that it will work. The pilot project will take in approximately 250 people.
The other point made strongly is that communities have a big role to play: first, they give food, money and jobs to people on the street, which encourages the homeless to stay in the area. Secondly, it is important to ‘own’ our public spaces, and Brandon Golding cited Friends of Van Riebeeck Park as one of the relatively new projects which is working on upgrading facilities in the park to draw residents to spend time there. Research has shown that the more a community uses its public spaces, the fewer loiterers and squatters take over the space. The newly-formed Gardens Watch is also working hard at reclaiming Jutland Park with regular walk-abouts.
After the presentation, there were numerous questions and comments from the floor, with a number of the exchanges becoming quite heated! The issue of car guards around the Gardens Centre was also raised: car guarding itself is not an offence but begging aggressively is. However a law enforcement officer would need to witness this or the victim would need to make a statement to this affect to enable a fine to be issued. A suggestion was made that formalised paid parking should be put in place which would displace the guards.

Jesse Laitinen Streetscapes, a project run by Khulisa Social Solutions, was asked to comment. Streetscapes grew out of the realisation that the same people were being recycled through the community court for the same by-law transgressions. With various sponsors in place, a food garden was established next to Fruit and Veg in Roeland Street, and has expanded to Tafelberg School. This project employs homeless people, paying them a stipend for hours worked. It also helps participants tap into any medical or social assistance they need. At least 50% of the people who have come through the project, has stayed employed, with drug and alcohol usage much reduced. Affordable accommodation remains a huge challenge and a hurdle to moving off the streets.

Support the Friends of the various parks in your area – use your public spaces! Support NGOs working with the homeless: Streetscapes, The Haven, the Service Dining Rooms … there are many more to choose from. Give Responsibly!
Join CIBRA, join your neighbourhood watch, patrol, become active and help to change the situation.