Homeless people staying next to Goodwood Library. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
Homeless people staying next to Goodwood Library. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Petition to challenge City of Cape Town’s treatment of the homeless

By Mthuthuzeli Ntseku Time of article published Jun 17, 2021

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Cape Town - The Strandfontein Homeless Action Committee (SHAC) and its affiliates, House and the Rehoming Collective have started a petition objecting to what they said was the inhumane manner in which the City treated homeless people through their law enforcement agencies and their proposed changes to by-laws.

SHAC said the by-laws portrayed homeless people as deviants and criminals.

Rehoming Collective director Lucien Lewin said the petition was important, because it provided most Capetonians with an opportunity to voice their support for homeless people.

“The petition is here to tell the City that despite their uncalled for depiction of homeless people as criminal deviants, the majority of Capetonians are against what seems to be their current policy on homeless people.

“I believe that those who are opposed to the protection of our homeless brothers and sisters constitutional rights are in the minority. Let the people of Cape Town show our true colours and stand in solidarity with our homeless brothers and sisters by signing the petition,” he said.

SHAC member Carlos Mesquita said the City did not have the facilities to offer homeless people living on its streets a dignified alternative.

“Yet structures that the homeless erect and tents they put up to protect themselves from the elements are broken down, and in the process their meagre possessions, including their documentation, medication and ID documents, are confiscated.

“The City also issues fines to these homeless people, and are now wanting to change the by-law so they can arrest homeless people for being homeless.

“Law enforcement had the Displaced People’s Unit that is meant to be trained to handle the interventions with homeless people, but that unit comprises 30-odd members, and with the number of interventions they do, usually other units handle these situations as if they are a law unto themselves,” said Mesquita.

Mesquita said if every homeless person, in protest against the criteria used to qualify for a shelter, stood up and demanded a bed, the City would face a crisis much bigger than Strandfontein.

He said there was a misconception that homeless people do not want to go to shelters because they have to obey the rules.

“At a shelter, you break a rule, you get kitchen duty; at worst, evicted. On the streets, those same rules suddenly become laws, and the punishment goes from eviction to being sent to prison. How stupid must you be to make that choice, unless the shelter itself is worse than prison, and that begs investigation,” he said.

Despite confirmation that mayoral committee member for community service and health Zahid Badroodien received the questions put to him, he failed to respond by the time of going to press.

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