Jozi shelter rules ‘unconstitutional’

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Johannesburg - The City of Joburg’s temporary accommodation model for destitute people is unconstitutional.

The South Gauteng High Court in Joburg ruled on Friday the city could not enforce two of its house rules – that residents not be allowed into their rooms between 8am and 5.30pm; and not be allowed to have their partners and relatives in their rooms at night.

Residents of the Ekuthuleni shelter had claimed their rights were being violated.

The court found that the two house rules were an unjustifiable infringement on the residents’ rights to privacy, freedom and security of the person and human dignity.

Judge Lotter Wepener interdicted the City of Joburg and its service provider, Metropolitan Evangelical Services (MES), from enforcing these rules at the shelter.

The Ekuthuleni shelter, a place of temporary accommodation, was provided by the council to some of the Saratoga Avenue residents. They were relocated after the Blue Moonlight judgment by the Constitutional Court in 2011, which found the council had to provide alternate accommodation for evicted people.

The council outsourced the management of the shelter to MES, a Christian organisation that runs shelters and provides other social services for homeless people in the inner city.

The council contracted MES to apply its “managed-care model”, which it implements in its own homeless shelters, in Ekuthuleni.

The city argued that Ekuthuleni was an overnight facility “akin to hotels, hospitals and student residents” and does not constitute a “home”.

However, the judge found that the “managed care” model primarily catered for the supply of overnight facilities and was “not developed to accommodate persons in an emergency or temporary situation, as ordered in Blue Moonlight”.

The council and MES also argued that because the residents’ stay at the shelter was meant to be temporary and short term, the infringement of certain constitutional rights was justifiable.

The court, however, found that “whether a period of six months, 12 months or longer, was foreseen is of no consequence, as it had turned out that some of the persons who were the beneficiaries of the order of the Constitutional Court are still, some three years later, housed by the city pursuant to that order”.

The court found that “while the (Saratoga Avenue evictees) fall in a category of persons who require temporary or emergency accommodation, they do not fall into the category of persons who normally visit an overnight shelter” - that is homeless and destitute individuals who seek overnight accommodation on an ad hoc basis.

On the day-time lockout rule, which the city and MES claimed encourages residents to seek employment opportunities, Judge Wepener found that this rule resulted in “residents being exposed to dangers inherent in street life and inhibits their freedom in material respects, and thus clearly infringes on their right to freedom, security and dignity”.

Practically, this means if the residents “should feel unwell or wish to attend to some private or personal matter, it must be done or suffered elsewhere than the place they stay”.

The court also found the policy disallowing spouses and life partners from living together was unjustifiable, with “humiliating consequences”.

Nomzamo Zondo, director of litigation at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, handling the matter for the residents, said the judgment confirmed that poor people had the right to be treated with the same dignity as everybody else.

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