Temporary relief secured for Cape Town’s homeless residents
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Cape Town - Homeless people whose belongings were impounded by the City’s law enforcement officers at Tent City next to the Green Point Tennis Club have received a reprieve.
Some of their confiscated goods were returned while others complained that their life-supporting antiretroviral drugs, asylum-seeking papers and artwork were still missing.
The move followed an agreement reached by legal counsel for the affected homeless people and the City of Cape Town.
However, a draft order by the Western Cape High Court acknowledged that the agreement would not resolve the dispute between the parties and the matter would be argued in court on Tuesday.
On Friday a heavy law enforcement presence and a private security tactical response vehicle kept watch over the group of homeless people at the Green Point Tennis Club and instructed them not to put up the returned tents.
Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre said it was ironic that the court had just ordered the return of the groups impounded goods and now they were forbidden to erect their homes again.
“The City carried out an illegal eviction and if the homeless were deprived of their homes, they must be given back their homes,” said lawyer Jonty Cogger.
The group of 21 people were evicted from the public land along the perimeter of the tennis club on Monday and some of their goods were confiscated by the law enforcement officers.
Ndifuna Ukwazi said the eviction was carried out without a court order and was therefore illegal.
In April, the Law Centre challenged the constitutionality and “discriminatory” impact of two of the City’s by-laws namely the Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances and the Integrated Waste management By-Law on behalf of 11 people who lived on the streets.
Ndifuna Ukwazi has argued that the by-laws criminalised homelessness by making it a crime to conduct ordinary life-sustaining activities such as sleeping, camping, resting, bathing, erecting a shelter or keeping personal belongings in public.
The government imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A study by a faith-based non-profit organisation offering skills development to the homeless, U-turn showed there were approximately 14 357 people living on the city’s streets, but only 2 473 beds in the city's shelters.
The organisation also said the City spent about R744 million a year on people living on the streets - with R345 million (or 45%) on enforcement and punitive measures and only R122 million (or 16%) on social development activities.
As a thunderstorm approached on Friday evening, artist Patience Mbueno whose work includes a bust of former president Nelson Mandela and Brett Kebble, tried to secure his tent along the fence.
Law enforcement officers asked him to take it down.
“That’s a violation of the Constitution of the country. We too have a right to be under shelter. You vandalised and took away my goods - my money, valuable artwork worth about half a million rands - I did not get those back. What you have done is inhumane,” he told the officer.
For Valencia Lewis, the Sea Point streets have been home for almost 27 years and she.
After receiving her tent back on Friday, she was cautious to express any views.
On the same day the law enforcement officers evicted the homeless in Green Point, they also cracked down on a group living on Hope Street in the city centre.
Brendan Lewis’s antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were confiscated during the raid, as were those of another transgender person Jayselen Pillay.
“They took away the ARVs, my tent and a few boards I use for shelter, items of clothing and my ID and left me with a fine for sleeping on the pavement,” said Lewis.
He also accused the officers of verbally abusing him.
Just a few weeks ago, Lewis, along with others living on the streets, received his Covid-19 vaccine.
“I was excited and have been encouraging others to do the same. But this raid has now left a bitter taste in my mouth,” Lewis said.
“On the streets, you sleep with one eye closed and the other open, most for fear of the law enforcement officers,” Lewis said.
Gender Dynamix (GDX), a NGO who protects the rights of transgender people, said it was concerned that women were being harassed, abused and their rights violated by law enforcement officials.
GDX’s Khanyisile Phillips said the organisation was also concerned that its interventions to assist the women to protect themselves from Covid-19 were being undermined by the actions of law enforcement officials.
Phillips said the organisation monitored and documented human rights violations against trans and gender-diverse people, and a report highlighted several reports of “violence, destruction of property, and degrading treatment by law enforcement officials against homeless transgender women in the city".
The City would not comment on the recent raids and eviction as the matter was sub judice.