File picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA).
Cape Town - The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) wants to urgently meet with City of Cape Town officials to discuss the constitutionality of a city by-law that will see homeless people fined for sleeping in public places.

This is according to SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen, who said that they met with the city over a month ago after initial concerns about how homeless people in Cape Town were being treated.

“We noticed the increased aggression towards homeless people and told the city that the SAHRC will be looking into that,” he said.

“We have received hundreds of complaints from homeless people about their possessions being removed, leaving them with nothing in this world.”

While mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances has been around since 2007, Nissen said it was only in the last couple of weeks that the SAHRC has received an influx of complaints about the homeless being fined and having their belongings taken away.

SAHRC senior legal adviser Tammy Carter said proper policies needed to be implemented, that do not violate the dignity of street people.

“Section 27 of the Bill of Rights deals with the basic right to health care, food, water and social security and it actually affirms that these needs should be provided by the state.

“We find that these rights are often disputed, especially when it comes to vulnerable people,” she said.

“If people have their identity documents, Sassa cards and clinic cards taken away from them and dumped with all of their possessions, how will they be able to access these facilities and have their basic needs met?”

Carter said while there were homeless shelters that ultimately wanted to see street people integrated back in to society, most of the organisations do not deal with the key issues which led these people to leave their homes in the first place.

“People live on the streets for different reasons; some because of substance abuse problems and others because of issues at home or mental illnesses, we need to look at the underlying causes of why they are not home and not simply try to send them back into that situation,” she said.

“The SAHRC has been engaging with the Department of Social Development, the Central City Improvement District Law Enforcement and City, to help find sustainable solutions to these issues because they are the faces of authority to many people who find themselves on the streets in Cape Town,” said Peter Solomon, head of The Hope Exchange shelter. He said it was futile to fine street people.

“We understand the pressure on the City to balance the rights of people living on the street against the public’s complaints of street people transgressing various by-laws but issuing fines is pointless

“We urge the City to rather work with The Hope Exchange and other organisations to seek more constructive methods of dealing with the problems arising from homelessness.”

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