Guards spray us – homeless


Homeless people sleeping in the Teerpad parking lot in Bellville say they are tired of the constant harassment at the hands of Voortrekker Road City Improvement District (VRCID) security guards.

Northern News reported on this issue earlier this year in which a homeless person was allegedly beaten up by VRCID security. (“Homeless ‘beaten up’ by VRCID law enforcement,” Northern News, January 28).

VRCID, however, say they are simply doing their job to keep Bellville safe and clean.

Christo Diedericks, is one of the homeless people, who say they are tired of the treatment they receive.

“We are constantly being targeted by the security guards, even during the day. They come and they just take our belongings. What do they want to do with it? They came here on Tuesday May 17 with a truck and sprayed us wet, even my dog, Lady.”

But Derek Bock, VRCID’s chief operations officer, said a small number of homeless people had targeted the VRCID.

“By this we mean that they want the status quo to remain the same which includes anti-social behaviour, aggressive begging and littering to name a few.”

Bellville resident Richard Bohardien said the sound of an engine running had woken him on Tuesday.

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When he looked outside, he saw a truck.

“I saw how the security officers were spraying some of the homeless people. I ran in to fetch my phone because I wanted to take some pictures. When they saw me, they moved on.”

He said when he called the Bellville police, they told him the VRCID were operating within their mandate.

But Mr Bock challenged Mr Bohardien’s take on what had happened.

“Yes, our staff did spray certain areas in Bellville and Parow, but we categorically deny spraying any person wet. Where people were sleeping, they were woken up and asked to move aside as we need to spray these areas due to the health hazard of faeces and urine and left-over food, which attracts rats.”

He added: “I also need to point out that it was not at 4am but nearer to 6am, and the language used against our officers cannot be repeated here.”

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said the homeless had the same constitutional rights as any citizen, but City by-laws also had to be obeyed.

“In respect of the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances, no person may – in a public place – start or keep a fire, except an official or person duly authorised to do so; or sleep overnight or camp overnight or erect any shelter, unless in an area designated for this purpose by, or with the written consent of the City, provided that this shall not apply to cultural initiation ceremonies or informal settlements.”

Mr Bock said all VRCID operations were in support of the police or City law enforcement.

“It is easy to blame our security officers, as we are on the streets 24 hours a day. If any belongings are taken, they are confiscated by law enforcement who take it for safe keeping. What we do, however, remove is all cardboard, plastic and other litter lying around. We also remove shopping trolleys and wheelie bins, as these are stolen items. The wheelie bins are returned to the City and the trolleys to their owners.”

Mr Bock said the VRCID supported the City and had appointed a social development manager and two field workers.

“This team engages with the homeless on a daily basis, offering them alternative accommodation, job opportunities through Mould Empower Serve (MES) and an opportunity to go back home if they so wish, which is paid for by us.”

In our previous article, Richard Bosman, director for safety and security, is quoted as saying there would be an internal investigation into the assault allegations. But Mr Smith said the City had not received the information it requested for a formal follow-up.

“The City looked into the matter and resolved that law enforcement staff were not involved, as they only arrived on scene afterwards,” he said.

Olivia Jones has called the streets of Bellville her home for three years.

She said she had been sitting and chatting with some people when she saw the truck pull up on the Tuesday.

“They just started spraying us, some people were sleeping but they sprayed them as well. When they were done, they moved on to the other spots where some of the others sleep.”

Ms Jones said she had not bothered to go to the police station to press charges because she did not believe it would do any good.

“They just take our stuff and don’t even say anything. We only have two blankets now, and it is very cold at night. We can’t even sleep properly.”

Bellville police spokeswoman Major Fienie Nimb said anyone who came to the station with a complaint of assault or theft had to be helped.

“The procedure is that an official complaint will be registered. The complainant must be willing to give a statement under oath regarding the incident. The docket will then be booked out to a detective for the investigation thereof.”

Mr Smith has advised the group to lay charges with the police.

“Operations of this nature are only meant to remove illegal structures that have been set up. No personal belongings are meant to be taken from an individual. Where abandoned items are found during an operation, these items will be bagged and tagged and taken to the City’s Ndabeni pound for safekeeping.”

Suzette Little, the mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development, said the City’s street people programme tried to reintegrate the homeless into society by reuniting them with their families or referring them to appropriate social services.

“However, we cannot force anyone to accept our offers,” she said, noting that more than two thirds of the 4 377 people screened by the reintegration unit between July last year and February this year, had refused help.

Mr Diedericks said he could not go to the shelters because VRCID security staff had taken his ID.

In response, Mr Bock said: “My previous offer stands, that if anyone making these claims can identify such a member, I will personally see that they are disciplined. VRCID will also assist him or her to obtain a new ID, if found to be true. “A charge should be laid with the Bellville police, but the claimants must be prepared to positively identify the VRCID member. All homeless people in the area know my social development team and should make direct contact with them with facts, not lies. These reports are by the same people who refuse to move off the streets despite being offered a job by us. We have also offered to reunite them with their families but to no avail.”