Cape Town - Residents have been called on to take a stand against the Strandfontein temporary shelter provided to the homeless by the City of Cape Town in response to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Volunteers from different Community Action Networks have written a letter listing their objections and concerns about the living conditions at the Strandfontein Sports ground site. The group have encouraged people to sign the letter before Monday, 13 April 2020 at midday, as it will be sent to Mayor Dan Plato.
"The crisis that we are facing exposes more acutely the depth of poverty and inequality in Cape Town. As the regulations and lockdown begin to bite, too many people are hungry and without a home or access to opportunities to survive," the letter states.
"The crisis calls on all of us to nurture a deeper and more profound sense of our shared humanity, to act with overwhelming generosity and to ensure the most vulnerable residents do not suffer harm. Although the City must take measures to contain the virus, we expect politicians and city officials to lead with moral integrity and compassion.
"No matter the emergency, we cannot condone any action by the state which we know will rupture our society once again,"
The letter states that the group objects to the Strandfontein relocation camp because:
- We have heard the concerns of homeless people who fear being detained and disconnected from the relationships, programmes and professional support services that help them survive each day.
- We have heard from the organisations that support homeless people how they called for comprehensive plans but were excluded from assisting. Where people’s liberty and agency is limited, we expect the City of Cape Town to put in place adequate measures to ensure people are taken care of. Instead, the emphasis on detention over dignity is causing predictable frustration and anger and a reliance on law enforcement to manage the basic functions of the relocation camp. The ongoing threat of violence is clear.
- We have heard the concerns of public health doctors who cannot understand how the relocation camp keeps homeless people and the city safe from the spread of Covid-19. In fact, it makes homeless people more vulnerable to infection because basic precautions have not been put in place. People are crowded into tents and forced to queue for food and toilets. There are no attempts to sanitise surfaces regularly or ensure regular hand washing. While there is screening on arrival, the conditions mean that an asymptomatic person could easily spread the infection once inside. Bringing together thousands of people who are likely to have acute medical needs, compromised immune systems, or are living with HIV and TB, may do more harm than good.
- We have heard the concerns of social workers who question what provision is being made to assist people with mental health issues, or those suffering from withdrawal owing to substance and alcohol abuse. Forced and involuntary withdrawals can be deadly and need to be managed carefully.
- We have heard from women and survivors of gender based violence about the extreme vulnerability of women, children, disabled and LGBTQI + people. Strandfontein relocation camp does not have the means to protect vulnerable people and provide refuge from or an adequate response to rape, abuse and assault.
- We have heard the concerns of lawyers and human rights monitors about the way homeless people are being taken and detained inside the camp and their fears that the situation is violating basic human rights.
- We have heard from neighbours who know how cold and damp this part of the city can get in the winter and who know things can only get worse.
The group shared the following position:
- The City of Cape Town must support alternatives, including opening smaller temporary shelters in buildings across the city. Volunteers across this city are willing to do what is necessary to ensure that any local initiatives are safe, supported and integrated into community networks.
- The City of Cape Town must open up public buildings and work with local NGOs, associations and religious communities who wish to open their doors and provide refuge. In the interim, public taps and toilets must be opened for homeless people who are still on the street and do not have access to running water.
- If the City of Cape Town chooses to continue, then the relocation camp must be given the highest priority and funding to ensure that it stops the virus from spreading, is safe, and respects the human rights and dignity of all people. No homeless person should be forced to enter the relocation camp against their will where alternatives exist.
- The City of Cape Town must grant unhindered access to journalists and accredited human rights observers immediately.
Plato earlier said he had visited the site to "inspect the various services" and ensure "our homeless community is well taken care of while at this facility".
"We are providing medical services, shelter, meals, ablution and shower facilities. When entering the site, our homeless community is screened by medical professionals and social workers so that we can respond appropriately to their medical and psychosocial needs."
Plato also said the reason the City could not use other stadiums and community halls was "these sites have already been identified for temporary hospitals, and isolation/quarantine facilities".