For the foreseeable future, people will be unhoused in our midst – how we support them (and the policies we create or fail to create) is a reflection of the values we choose to uphold in response to this reality.
Because certain groups of individuals are vastly over-represented in the unsheltered population, responses and policies put in place inevitably reflect our commitment to equity, racial justice and inclusion.
A comprehensive, clearly articulated policy and action plan must be implemented to address the complex and varied circumstances experienced by those residing outside.
There is not a single solution, but a mosaic of approaches is needed. One of the most urgent interventions is finding a solution to the hundreds of unmanaged, unserviced, unsightly, unsafe and unhygienic encampments littered all over Cape Town.
I am suggesting they are banned in consultation with those living on the streets and replaced with serviced and managed encampments/Safe Outdoor Spaces.
What is a Safe Outdoor Space?
It is a public health response to mitigate the impact of the Covid19 pandemic among our unhoused neighbours. It extends equitable access to services such as health care and ongoing case management, and its main focus is to relocate people left camping in public spaces after the Covid-19 pandemic into a safe, managed, service-oriented location where further services towards reintegration can be offered.
It is an outdoor, individualised sheltering model for unhoused people.
The following resources should be provided: toilets, refuse removal services, water, mental health services, housing navigation services, employment and benefit navigation services.
Our starting point should be that homelessness in our community has increased substantially in recent years.
Until culturally appropriate affordable housing and shelter options are at scale, people will reside in informal sheltering situations in our community.
While push and retention factors are not addressed and remain, more of our neighbours will enter into homelessness and struggle to emerge from it and this situation will continue unabated:
The following have to be addressed if we are to end chronic homelessness: the affordable housing crisis, generational poverty, institutional racism, the wealth gap, housing disparities, the opiate epidemic, the flood of cheap methamphetamine, and an evictions moratorium.
The choice is not “if” our neighbours will reside in places unfit for human habitation in our community – but “how” we choose to treat them while they do.
We need to urgently have a homeless encampment response policy change with regards to existing and emerging camps.
An established policy is the bedrock for a humane response to encampments.
Our current policy is haphazard and reactive – when pressure reaches a climax, camps are cleared with little or no notice. It is traumatising and inhumane.
Homelessness is criminalised and personal property is destroyed.
A group composed of camp residents, local government, outreach teams, and neighbours should be given control of the location and management of the site.
Neighbours and businesses then have a clear insight into the camp, with assurances of services and support for camp residents.
The proposed policy is to ban all unserviced and unmanaged camps, and offer residency at new serviced and managed camps.
A multidisciplinary team will work with a targeted camp focused on positive outcomes. A group composed of camp residents, local government, outreach teams and neighbours collectively set a time frame and location for new camps.
These camps should be supported with basic infrastructure: rubbish removal, toilets, hygiene stations, fencing.
Community support and volunteers that can help manage the space.
Outreach services supporting health and housing should also be prioritised.
These encampments could be structured around existing sites or established from new locations. Scale is variable.
These encampments should be seen as collaborative efforts with residents, but more robust service provider support would be required without allocating any one service provider with control.
Service provider involvement varies depending on funding and desired outcomes. It can, however, be set up as a very service-rich environment with adequate funding.
The City has demonstrated the ability to ramp up basic infrastructure.
These encampments should be considered transitional and a path to permanent housing.
Please support managed and serviced encampments rather than the senseless evictions with no real change, which is currently the City’s policy in real terms.
The Safe Spaces are not capacitated to address this crisis.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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