Cape Town - The City has been accused of continually attacking the homeless, with the latest incident involving a group of homeless people in the Plumstead area whose donated items were allegedly confiscated by Law Enforcement officers.
Dylan Graham, a Diep River resident helping the homeless in his suburb, said he handed clothing items to the street people on Monday morning when he received a message an hour later that the City’s Law Enforcement officers had confiscated and/or damaged the clothing items as well as their personal belongings.
“I am really starting to lose my patience with the City of Cape Town and Law Enforcement. The City needs to understand that regardless of circumstances, these are still people.
“Law Enforcement (officers) park outside Lady Michaelis Community Health Centre and wait to pounce on them. Every week this happens to them.
“The homeless in Cape Town are seen as a burden. Law Enforcement abuses the power given to them and they try to harass and bother the homeless so that they will move out of the area,” he said.
The latest incident happened as the City faces criticism over a form being circulated soliciting public complaints about the impact of the homeless.
This after eleven homeless people launched an application in the Western Cape High Court and the Equality Court challenging the constitutionality and discriminatory impact of two of the City’s by-laws relating to Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances (2007) and the Integrated Waste Management (2009).
The City council’s Safety and Security portfolio committee chairperson Mzwakhe Nqavashe said: “Law enforcement officers are duty-bound to apply the law equally, and to respond to the hundreds of complaints from residents each month about anti-social behaviour, breaking of by-laws, and crime committed on streets and in public places.”
Homeless Action Committee member Carlos Mesquita said the City has always had a policy whereby homeless people who erect structures to protect themselves from the elements at night were harassed and their private belongings including IDs and medication confiscated along with the materials they utilise to make their makeshift shelter.
“The City will tell you that does not happen and it is true that the City's official line on the breaking down of illegal structures should not include taking IDs and medication, but unfortunately, the reality is far removed from the City's expectation.
“As a former homeless man with lived experience of living on the streets of Cape Town for over five years, I know the Law Enforcement is potentially the greatest cause of trauma for homeless people because their harassment becomes personal and they will, having decided that you are too opinionated, or someone that could cause problems for them through reporting channels, target you and will be there every time you turn your back to ensure they are making your experience on the streets is unpleasant,” said Mesquita.
Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre attorney Danielle Louw said the City's Law Enforcement relied on the two by-laws to confiscate the belongings of people living on the street.
“The unconstitutional deprivation of street people's belongings is akin to theft from the poor and only exacerbates their condition. In no way does the City's power to deprive street people of their personal belongings assist in meeting their needs.
“We continue to call on the City to adopt a needs-centred approach to addressing the challenges experienced by homeless people, and that the City refrain from taking actions that make their lives harder,” said Louw.
City Law Enforcement spokesperson Wayne Dyason said Law Enforcement does not confiscate personal belongings and this includes clothing, documents and blankets.
Dyason said there were no operations on Monday in the area and no fines issued.
Additional Reporting by Shakirah Thebus