File photo: Tracey Adams/ANA.
The City of Cape Town said it had a special Street People Unit which assisted the homeless when they were in need of medical care.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien said the unit often received requests for medical care from street people and it assisted with ambulance support. “We always encourage street people to attend city clinics during opening hours,” he said.

Weekend Argus took to the streets this week to find out from homeless people whether they used these health services. 

Homeless people made headlines this week following an outcry over the City’s decision to issue them with fines for by-law contraventions. 

Badroodien said the City allocated a budget, close to R700 000, annually for street people programmes, including the city’s safe space for street people and the winter readiness programmes.

Mayco member for community safety JP Smith said officers applied the law equally to all citizens.

“All citizens accused of transgressing a by-law have the option of going to court and explaining their situation note that fines are set by the Department of Justice, not the city,” he said.

Smith said the city had the responsibility to enforce by-laws, especially when acting on complaints. He said the relevant by-laws were the Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances by-law, 2007; and the Integrated Waste Management by-law. Transgressions ranges from obstructing pavements and starting fires in public places, to littering and dumping - and these transgressions applied to all people, not only the homeless.

He also denied that the issuing of fines showed the city was “uncaring”.

He said it was not illegal to be homeless, and street people were entitled to freedom of movement as outlined in the Bill of Rights.

However, street people were expected to abide by the laws of the country and city by-laws. 

Smith said in the first three months of this year, the Law Enforcement Displaced Persons Unit received 3051 complaints from the public about anti-social behaviour by street people. During the same period, the unit issued 199 fines for contraventions of by-laws.

The chief executive of the Haven Night Shelter, Hassan Khan, echoed Smith’s sentiments that anyone could be issued with a fine if they broke the city’s by-laws.

The Haven Night Shelter has been offering accommodation, bathing and clothing to the city’s homeless for the past 20 years. It has a bed capacity of 1200 and works with 32 other shelters spread out across the city.

“During our winter programme, we also make mattresses available and use all the available space to house more of the homeless. This does not mean we should turn a blind eye when laws are being broken,” he said.

At the Haven, the homeless receive free accommodation for the first 30 days and thereafter they have to complete chores for one hour per day should they wish to stay on.

Weekend Argus