‘Problematic’ City’s homeless by-law slated
Share this article:
CAPE TOWN - The City’s plan to fine homeless people found sleeping in a public place if they “refuse a reasonable offer” of alternative shelter has been labled problematic and a concern due to inadequate shelters in the city.
The Mayoral Committee (Mayco) gave the greenlight to the controversial new Unlawful Occupation by-law, alongside updates to the Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances by-law following a meeting on Wednesday.
According to the City, there were more than 350 hotspots for public complaints around by-law violations relating to people living on the streets.
The updated new Streets by-law states a person found sleeping in a public place without authority will first be issued with a compliance notice.
“They will be offered alternative shelter, such a person only commits an offence if they refuse a reasonable offer of alternative shelter. A court may not sentence a guilty person to prison. It may only fine the person,” the by-law reads.
Safety and Security Portfolio Committee chairperson Mzwakhe Nqavashe explained that the approval by the Portfolio Committee last week was the first step.
“Mayco has recommended that City Council approve updates to three by-laws, and one new by-law, which have all followed extensive public participation processes. The next Council meeting is on September 29 and the bylaws will be on the agenda,” said Nqavashe.
Development Action Group (DAG) Project Officer Ryan Fester said there was not enough alternative shelter for those found sleeping in a public place.
“If you were to accommodate a large percentage in the shelters then there would still be more homeless people leftover sleeping on the streets.
“Shelters refuse people if alcohol, drugs or aggressive behaviour is present. This means that even if a person is offered a shelter but they are denied due to intoxication. The by-law does not provide adequate details on how a person will be dealt with if they are denied by a shelter,” said Fester.
He added that the by-law also does not mention whether or not a homeless person fined by court means an ‘Admission-of-guilt fine’ which results in a criminal record.
Good secretary-general Brett Herron said the growing number of people who find themselves homeless and living on the streets was concerning and the City needs to invest in accommodation and programmes.
He said if the City could spend R44 million to rent tents for homeless people for six weeks in Strandfontein then they can find the budget to purchase buildings to provide a permanent transitional housing solution.
“We must assist from a compassionate and social service starting point and not a criminalisation starting point.”
Ndifuna Ukwazi said for the Safety Committee to recommend the Streets by-law be adopted by Council when the constitutionality of the by-law was currently being challenged in the High Court and Equality Court, flies in the face of the basic human rights of Capetonians.
“We are concerned that the by-law will grant the City the power to arrest any person refusing a ’reasonable’ offer of shelter. Every person experiencing homelessness has a diverse and complex set of needs that requires a housing solution specifically tailored to their situation. If the City's current approach to shelter was effective, the enforcement of such a provision would be entirely unjustified.”
The organisation said they hope the council sees reason and rejects the by-laws.