This week marks the third anniversary of the great exodus from Strandfontein by those that at the time experienced homelessness and were forcefully moved to the camp in Strandfontein, only to be put back on the streets post the camp’s sudden and controversial closure six weeks later.
About 1 800 people taken to the camp were released this week three years ago.
A number were dropped off in the CBD with their City-issued tents, blankets and mattresses. A large number of them faced eviction from the areas where the City had disposed of them.
Last week, the City had readied to evict about 120 people (many still living in their City-issued tents and sleeping on their city-issued mattresses from Strandfontein) and currently living at seven spots in the CBD.
The evictions were halted at the 11th hour when a Johannesburg-based NGO, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri), registered its intent to contest the planned evictions.
Seri’s involvement highlighted another failure – the commitments made to this homeless group by many Cape Town-based human rights activists and organisations with their own political and financial agendas.
Since the City began with his bid to get a court order to evict these individuals, I have been very vocal on the matter and wrote three open letters to Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.
My objections were based on my own experience of homelessness, as well as having been one of those that was disposed of in this manner after Strandfontein.
My objections are also based on the fact that the City’s alternatives for this group have remained the same as they were prior to Strandfontein and not conducive to seeing people progress from living on the street to reintegratiom into society.
Both the shelters that are funded by the provincial government and the City-funded Safe Spaces have been and continue to be rejected by those living on the streets for good reasons.
Both of these accommodation options are entry phase and temporary in nature. They also do not recognise those living on the streets as individuals and so do not provide people experiencing homelessness with the agency to determine what their futures will look like.
They are institutionalised spaces that serve only one purpose and that is to keep people from sleeping and living in full view of the public eye.
One need only look at the seven spots to be cleared by the evictions.
They clearly indicate that the motivation for the evictions is to clear these areas because they are in full view of those visiting the CBD (tourists and potential investors).
The offer of alternative accommodation is merely cosmetic in order to keep up the façade of care.
If the City truly cared about the well-being of those living on the streets, then they would have spent the last three years determining how many individuals are living on the streets of Cape Town and interacting with both those with lived experience and those still living on the streets to ascertain the reasons for them having landed up on the streets, what their journey has been like and, finally, what it will take to help them leave the streets. This, however has not happened.
What has happened is the investment in more safe spaces.
But having done this with no idea as to how many individuals are actually living on the street and without getting a clear picture of what the opposition to the shelter and Safe Spaces model is, they have failed in providing any long-term solutions.
This is clearly a display of the noncare for those living on the streets and their needs.
I hope and pray that the next couple of months will be different and that the City will seriously reconsider their position on those living on the streets and that this time there will be no pseudo-caring opportunists with their political agendas to derail things, yet again.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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