Due to shortcomings in national legislation regarding the homeless, the City of Cape Town is focusing more on what it can do to mitigate the risks of people ending up on the street.
This was highlighted by mayoral committee member for safety and security, and social services JP Smith in a statement on Wednesday on World Homeless Day, which is commemorated annually to draw attention to the needs of street people and to provide opportunities for communities to get involved in responding to homelessness.
According to Smith, "we need to start having serious conversations about how we responsibly support street people and contribute to the ultimate goal of ensuring their reintegration".
"Homelessness is a worldwide phenomenon, although the challenges can vary from city to city. In Cape Town, we have realised that, due to shortcomings in national legislation, law enforcement as it relates to street people is ineffective in that we cannot issue fines or arrest them to appear in court in relation to these charges.
"It is for this reason that we are focusing more on what we can do to mitigate the risks of people ending up on the street and we are working closely with those who want to get off the street.
"Since the adoption of the City’s Street People Policy, we have introduced a number of measures aimed at assisting people living on the street. These include:
· Assistance with reintegration and access to shelters and social services.
· Arrangement of temporary work opportunities for street people living in shelters.
· Launching the winter readiness campaign to assist shelters to cope with the influx of street people.
· Establishing local networks of care in communities to work with persons at risk of becoming homeless.
"Reintegration remains our number one priority, and the City’s Culemborg Safe Space has been a big step in that direction. In the three-and-a-half months since it opened its gates, we have already had numerous success stories and even a few fairy tales as couples tied the knot and embarked on new journeys together.
"However, the road ahead is filled with challenges, not only for our clients for whom the biggest challenge is staying on the new path they’ve carved for themselves but also for this administration as we balance the rights and needs of street people against the slew of daily complaints.
"World Homeless Day is, therefore, an opportune time to highlight these challenges and consider how we can possibly overcome them.
"It speaks to educating the public about issues that street people face. I can say without hesitation that most people haven’t chosen a life on the street, but are there because of circumstance.
"I implore Capetonians to look beyond the nuisance that many consider street people to be and to invest time and effort to try and understand the individuals and their stories.
"Also, the reasons for migration to the street are varied and complicated and it is worth our while interrogating these. A myriad of social issues can contribute to homelessness, whether physical or mental illness; a breakdown in family ties; physical, sexual or substance abuse; unemployment and more.
"Linked to that is how we assist street people. A traffic light donation is often the quick fix for many, but it does nothing for the long-term welfare of the street person.
"So we need to start having serious conversations about how we responsibly support street people and contribute to the ultimate goal of ensuring their reintegration.
"Already, many individuals, private enterprises and non-governmental organisations are doing very good work in this space. Many have also stepped up to help the City following the launch of the Safe Space.
"We said in the beginning that this is an entirely new undertaking and that we are learning as we go along. The learning process has been made far easier, thanks to the 28 corporates and NGOs supporting us by offering permanent job opportunities at the V&A Waterfront and Cape Town Central Improvement District; training, clothing, toiletries, food supplies and even funeral policies offered by Mosaic for up to 250 street people who are attending our developmental programmes.
"We envision rolling out more Safe Spaces across the metropole, but this is dependent on funding and there could potentially be opportunities for further public/private partnerships.
"The City’s Social Development Department will also embark on a headcount of street people in the coming months. The last count was conducted in 2015 and so we need to determine whether there has been a change in the number of street people living on the streets and in shelters.
"The information we gather will enable us to determine whether our current interventions are making a difference. The count will cover the entire metropole, including 37 hot-spot areas for street people.
"A team of field workers will be trained to do the headcount, working closely with the Reintegration Unit. The methodology for the headcount is being drafted and will be finalised within the next few weeks. The findings will inform our street people programmes and social outreach going forward."