Years of hard work and passion trying to convince the provincial Department of Social Development (DSD) and the City to use the old Robbie Nurock Hospital in the CBD for those experiencing homelessness in the CBD finally looked to be paying dividends in late 2021.
Spurred on by discussions with myself, Dr Zahid Badroodien initiated talks between the City and DSD on the matter and despite it coming with a twist, it was announced that Robbie Nurock was to be handed to the Hope Exchange to open as a state-funded shelter.
The Hope Exchange board asked me to present the site to them in October 2021. A Zoom presentation to the board and a site visit later, plans were afoot for an exciting and revolutionary homeless transitional space.
A dignified and transitional model of accommodating people living on the streets was about to be piloted in a state-funded project. It would have seen people living on the streets being provided with a dignified and more independent way of living.
It would also have been the first time that a centre of this magnitude would incorporate upliftment, empowerment and employment opportunities, psycho-social support, and feeding by a variety of service providers.
These services would also have been available to the then already fast-growing number of people living on the streets of the CBD, which today stands at more than 7 000.
These services would be aimed at these individuals starting a journey towards reintegration back into society and thus at the same time be addressing the growing number of people living on the streets of the CBD proactively.
By early 2022, the plan was abandoned and the initial idea to turn the space into an art museum was back on track. On questioning this development, I was told this was due to evidence of asbestos being found in the building.
No mention was made of the objections that had been received from the surrounding predominantly white and affluent areas of Gardens and Vredehoek. This is despite the plan having been to accommodate those experiencing homelessness in De Waal Park, in and around the Gardens, Hope Street and Buitenkant Street at the proposed Robbie Nurock site.
The department eventually decided on an alternative space – the old Tafelberg crèche site in Zonnebloem, allocated another R13.5 million to the budget, and in association with the Hope Exchange downgraded the development to nothing more than a glorified slightly larger version of another entry phase emergency shelter of which we already have numerous in the CBD.
These shelters have proven ineffective in sustainably keeping people off the streets and thus have no impact on reducing the number of those living on the streets.
As a former homeless man and activist for finding dignified and sustainable pathways out of homelessness, I am very aware of the huge crisis the City faces in terms of accommodating the homeless.
Having spoken with the majority of those living on the streets who would have benefited from what had been proposed for Robbie Nurock, I found that most reject and are disappointed, discouraged, yet not surprised by the provincial department’s change of plans.
It is shocking that the DSD has opted to again offer temporary and emergency accommodation in 100bed prison-style dormitories where individuals have no agency, personal space, or privacy as an alternative to living on the streets.
For this reason – and the fact that I have a greater understanding and sympathy for the cultural and historical objections being levelled by the District Six residents against this planned shelter than I do for the objections that were raised, and I am convinced were the real reason for the sudden change of heart by DSD on the Robbie Nurock site – I will not support or endorse this new plan.
This about-turn reeks of DSD support for Nimbyism (Not In MY BackYard) and the industrial homeless complex so evident in the homeless sector in the City of Cape Town. It also implicitly shows that no consideration has been given to the needs and wants of those living on the streets in the area, who for years have campaigned for the Robbie Nurock site.
Despite there being a dire need to accommodate those on the streets, we have to start calling out this inefficient and corrupt system that keeps people imprisoned in homelessness. We need to hold these agencies accountable – otherwise, the homeless crisis will continue as more money is pumped into a continually failing system.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
Do you have something on your mind; or want to comment on the big stories of the day? We would love to hear from you. Please send your letters to [email protected].
All letters to be considered for publication, must contain full names, addresses and contact details (not for publication)