Concerns over influx of homeless to Cape Town CBD
Cape Town - City centre residents and commuters are concerned about the sudden influx of homeless people camping around the CBD as people steadily return to work.
Angie Cloete expressed her concerns about the number of homeless people in her area, especially women and children, who are vulnerable to abuse. Even as one who pays high rent, she fears for her safety while walking to the shop.
“The rent is so high here, you would expect to live comfortably and be safe. But you must always look over your shoulder. As soon as I leave my place, they are always there, and they go to the extent of following you to the shop.
“Don't get me wrong, I’m a very giving person; but this is becoming really stressful every time I have to go to work or run my errands. Particularly heartbreaking is that a mother will follow you around with their children in harsh weather. You can get so annoyed, while feeling so bad that you just take money out of your bag and give it to them.”
“I think the government should set up a tiny village for them and provide work such as sweeping the streets and beaches, and reward them with food, clothing, and shelter, to inspire them. Because some of them may be aggressive and put your life at risk – they'll chase you around,” said Cloete.
Metrorail commuter, Beverly Thys is concerned about the well-being of children.
“I see children and mothers struggling to get food and to stay warm. Working in the CBD, I witness this every day. Some of these children are exposed to drugs and all sorts of illicit activities, and as someone who has a home and a job, sometimes I wish I could do something more,” said Thys.
Lilian Fortune, 59, lives on the pavement at the train station with her friend Lucky because she has no money to pay rent.
“It's hard living on the streets, we’re all here have our own reasons. I don’t have money to pay rent. I’m still waiting on my pension money and then I will go back. For now the little money I get is for food and all the stuff I need to take care of myself,” said Fortune.
Lucky, 58, has constantly been in and out of home shelters and is yet to get his life in order.
“I'm trying my best to change my ways because I had a very dark past when I was young, and now I'm facing the consequences. I'm trying to stay off the streets so that I don't go back to my old ways, but the home shelter keeps turning me away ,” said Lucky.
Night Haven chief executive Hassan Khan said the problem was that shelters were being misrepresented as housing options.
“We offer social work services to help homeless persons reconnect with, and reintegrate with, family and our communities of choice. The Haven hospitality service is for Haven clients as an temporary measure while they work on personal development plans to reintegrate. The other challenge is that a third of the subsidy received from the provincial government is paid over to municipalities for water, electricity, sewerage and refuse collection.
“It’s the result of a judgment in the High Court which directs that a tent is to be regarded as a ’structure’ for the purpose of the PIE Act [Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act]. The government should amend or abolish the PIE Act as it is widely abused. The authorities should create more safe spaces and increase the hospitality capacity at shelters as an alternative to proper living on the street. It’s not sustainable to have public spaces at risk of continuous occupation,” said Khan.
The land occupied by the homeless belongs to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and spokesperson, Zinobulali Mihi said they continuously remove vagrants in their network. However, land invasion is not confined to Prasa only – it is a broader issue prevalent in areas where supply and demand for housing is misaligned. Covid-19’s adverse impact on the economy has exacerbated unemployment and homelessness.
“From time to time, we partner with various stakeholders such as law enforcement agencies, Transnet and community police forums to remove them (the homeless), but individuals and groups come back for shelter,” said Mihi.
Mayor Dan Plato said in a statement that court proceedings would need to be followed to address these issues.
’’My call remains for the president to urgently make the necessary regulatory changes for the sake of the rule of law, the greater good of our communities, and the development goals of our cities.
“Although national and regional governments have a statutory obligation to provide housing and social welfare, the City is moving beyond that to help,” said Plato.
The mayor's open letter details many programmes the City will implement to assist, such as a reintegration unit that works regularly to connect willing persons to shelters, reunite families when possible, and provide assistance in obtaining ID cards and social grants; and job training and annual winter readiness campaigns that will collaborate with shelters to provide a safe haven during cold weather.