#AnotherVoice: Out of the Strandfontein ashes, a dignified solution can be found
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This week constitutes an important commemoration in the ongoing struggle for a better life for the homeless community of Cape Town. It was on May 20 last year that mayor Dan Plato officially closed the Strandfontein Homeless Camp.
The final groups of people were driven out of the camp site on trucks and in buses, some to shelters and others dropped off at various locations, back on the city streets – where most of them still are today.
It’s a year later and little has happened to house the growing population of homeless people. It is still largely regarded as the work of underfunded NGOs to address the plight of homeless people – a financial burden that no NGO can bear for any length of time.
The primary mandate to address homelessness sits with both the departments of Social Development and Human Settlements. Both have been noticeably slow in coming forward with concrete plans to act as the lead agency in this discussion. This has given the City all the latitude to design policies and strategies to address this crisis with very little input from national or provincial government.
When Strandfontein finally closed on Friday, May 22, 2020, with the last 188 people dropped off by the City at the Culemborg site, it was a human disaster.
Clinging on to meagre belongings and mattresses, they slept under the Culemborg bridge in what was a brooding winter storm. On Sunday, May 24, 2020, a rain and wind storm broke out over Cape Town that drenched them.
The Mayco member for Community Services and Health, Dr Zahid Badroodien, the homeless agencies, the Strandfontein Homeless Action Committee and various other agencies have all engaged each other about this crisis.
The truth is that these parties are actually all much closer to finding a solution to this crisis than what many may believe.
The various parties are in constant conversation with each other. There is an acceptance of the enormity of the crisis.
What is now needed is for the provincial government to co-lead this conversation as the funding partner to the housing strategies for homeless people.
The province and City should bravely lead the way and rent office and holiday accommodation space that can be converted into small housing units for at-risk people.
The Social Housing Regulatory Authority within the Department of Human Settlements should engage with the homeless sector and co-create multiple models of accommodation that can address this issue.
The premier of the Western Cape should convene a “Cabinet Meet Business and the Homeless” to discuss equitable solutions to these seemingly intractable problems.
The narrative that we are at war with the homeless in this city is a false narrative. There are those who spin that narrative to drive a negative outcome to potentially viable solutions.
There are those who have made it their life’s work to destroy the goodwill of the people of Cape Town towards the homeless and vulnerable. We have the capacity to design world class solutions to homelessness.
From my various discussions with people in the sector, it’s within months of realisation – if the budget and the willingness can be found.
May 20, 2020, was the end of a camp that never should have been. May 20, 2021, is filled with the potential to have brave conversations about housing options in the heart of the city.
Let’s be clear: when we talk about housing for poor vulnerable people, we are not talking about creating more townships like Wolwerivier and Blikkiesdorp. We must talk about housing within the heart of the city. The homeless of Sea Point and the CBD are residents of Sea Point and the CBD.
They are no longer residents of a township they left 15 years ago. With intelligent and caring development plans, out of the Strandfontein ashes, a dignified solution can be found that creates a City that leads the world in caring for its people.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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