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Cape Town - Begging and homelessness in Cape Town are on the rise and many view the city centre as the “honey pot” of the metropole, says Taki Amira, chair of the Good Hope Subcouncil.
Amira has called for an urgent meeting with the Central City Improvement District (CCID) and the councillors responsible for social development in the mayoral and social development portfolio committees to come up with a “point-by-point action plan” to deal with the problem.
Areas that fall within the Good Hope Subcouncil include the CBD, Green Point, Sea Point and Hout Bay.
Amira said that while it was “not a crime to be homeless”, more needed to be done to curb the growing numbers of people begging on the streets and living under bridges or on traffic islands just outside the city.
The CCID “did their bit”, and the ward councillors were allocated funds for street people programmes, yet there were still too many beggars. Tourists were a soft target in the city centre, and many visitors were unaware of initiatives such as the “give responsibly” campaign, which discouraged people from handing out money.
Karen Cain, a social worker at The Carpenter’s Shop, an NGO providing rehabilitation, training and accommodation for homeless people on Roeland Street, said that while she had not noticed a rise in the number of people using the shelter’s ablution facilities, there were definitely more people drifting in during the day.
Cain attributed this to rising unemployment and drug addiction, particularly heroin. She said many homeless people wanted to remain close to town and were afraid of using a shelter where they could possibly be relocated to an outlying area. If there was no place near the city centre, they would opt to remain on the street.
Hassan Khan of The Haven Night Shelter said there had been a “great push of homeless people out of the CBD” by law enforcement and the CCID. This had resulted in a proliferation of street people living and begging on the periphery of the city centre, in areas not as rigorously patrolled. “We expect potential flare-ups and increased tensions as crime rises in these residential areas.”
Khan said there had been little effort to enforce city by-laws in areas beyond the CBD. “If there was greater uniformity in by-law enforcement, and the same interventions as in the CBD, there would be less incentive to set up camp beyond the city.”
Without incentives to come off the street, homeless people would continue to live on the periphery of the city centre, sleeping where they could.
Tasso Evangelinos, chief operating officer of the CCID, said his social development team had noted there were not more beggars, but they were becoming more aggressive.
The City of Cape Town has a street people policy and by-laws to regulate behaviour. But it has been under fire for the steps it has taken to stop homeless people from making fires and living under bridges.
Rocks have been set in concrete under the footbridge across Nelson Mandela Boulevard and under the unfinished elevated freeway to discourage people from living there. Fires could weaken the bridges’ rubber and concrete, and the presence of people on these busy roadways poses a risk to themselves, motorists and pedestrians.
Councillor Dave Bryant submitted a motion to the Good Hope Subcouncil to replace benches on Government Avenue with “inventive designs” to encourage sitting rather than lying down. But the motion prompted an outcry and Bryant withdrew it.
Finding a solution to the city’s homeless problem was “challenging”, said Jack Mahoney, of The Ark, an NGO dealing with street people.
“There is a lack of accommodation. Even if they get employment, where do they stay?”
He said the Ark, based in Faure, was almost at capacity with 798 of its 800 beds occupied. While the city was helping by opening assessment centres, it needed to offer some of its unused buildings on the border of the city for accommodation. “We’ve got to offer them something tangible.”
Mahoney said that most people wanted to be close to town, where there was a greater chance of finding work.
Evangelinos said the only way to deal with the problem was to “up the ante radically” on social services.
It was not a law enforcement issue or a simple question of employing more field workers, he said. There needed to be an appropriate outreach and skills development programme with professional staff.
The city had not responded to questions about the need for an urgent plan by the time of going to press.