The City of Cape Town, its not-so-new mayor, and many of its service providers promote a failed system of accommodating “the homeless” that has been declared to be “CONSTITUTIONALLY OFFENSIVE” by the country’s judiciary.
Perhaps today they will realise just how accommodating and fair I have tried to be these past three years in my criticism of their handling of the issue of homelessness.
I facilitated the opening of independent living spaces and upliftment and empowerment projects for those living on the streets to show the City and its sector providers examples of what is meant by dignified and sustainable ways of reducing the growing number of people living on our streets.
I exposed myself to the possibility of ending up back on the streets, and I can guarantee you it was a harrowing experience.
Despite the success of these initiatives, they were doomed to be short-lived, as their success exposed the City and its service providers as not being eager to end the very lucrative industry created at the expense of their intended beneficiaries.
This is an industry that sees tender irregularities make millions disappear, sees both the City and its service providers take advantage of a cheap labour option, without any chance of unfair labour practices ever being levelled against them, provides the City with a scapegoat for its failure to maintain law and order, and helps the City to sideline its mandate to ensure all those without homes are accommodated.
Those living on the streets continue to face illegitimate evictions without court orders. Those living on unused railway tracks are again being threatened with eviction, and Cissie Gool House, the result of a Reclaim the City occupation protesting against the City’s lack of affordable housing, and which has gone on over a period of almost seven years, has become home to 1 400 individuals and families, most of whom are on the City’s housing waiting lists.
It is facing closure.
Cissie Gool is a most pressing issue for the City, now in a race against time to deliver on its promise of 700 social housing units that might translate into votes next year, but this is not going to be another easy eviction for the likes of Wolverivier, Flamingo Heights or Blikkiesdorp. Not this time!
This is the law as it stands in terms of evictions and accommodating the most vulnerable, which the City persists in ignoring and lies to the public about.
It is the law, and not I, Ndifuna Ukwazi, SERI, or any other critic, that requires that the City provide temporary, alternative accommodation when evictions lead to homelessness.
However, the City has been slow to develop proactive, alternative accommodation programmes. The accommodation that is provided, compelled by court orders, is insufficient and unsuitable. Management of temporary alternative accommodation has been inadequate, and certain models, such as the “managed care model”, are on offer by the City of Cape Town through its Safe Spaces and shelters, and are, I quote, “constitutionally offensive”.
It is because of historical legacy and current exclusion that the state has an obligation to provide alternative accommodation to occupiers who would become homeless if they were evicted.
Municipalities are required to adopt a reasonable housing policy, which provides not only permanent housing solutions but also adequate, alternative accommodation for people who face homelessness due to an eviction.
They are obliged to plan for homelessness, are required to meaningfully engage with the parties over eviction proceedings, and required to place sufficient information before a court for it to be able to make a just and equitable decision.
Municipalities are specifically obliged to provide information about their housing policies and how they would provide alternative accommodation to those who require it upon eviction, and are constitutionally obliged to budget for all categories of people in desperate or emergency need of housing.
The City has not devised and implemented proactive, programmatic and coherent responses to evictions. Instead, the City constantly responds in an unco-ordinated manner by providing alternative accommodation only after being ordered by courts to do so. And then only accommodation that the courts have already ruled to be unacceptable and “constitutionally offensive” options.
The City does not fulfil its constitutional duties, and is undermining the housing-related rights of evictees who cannot afford housing on the open market. Land and building occupations are the last resort for people who have no other affordable formal housing options available to them, and the City is mandated to provide these.
The City is lying when it says it has no mandate over those experiencing homelessness. Social development may not be its mandate, but ensuring no one is living on the streets IS its mandate. And its Safe Spaces do not qualify as dignified and independent living spaces. I don’t say so, the law does.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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