Homeless camp a bridge too far

TASNEEM HASSAN

People living near the Monte Vista bridge on the N1 fear walking there following at least one robbery in the vicinity after homeless people built flimsy shelters from blankets and plastic sheeting about two months ago, say residents.

While police say there is no evidence linking the homeless people under the bridge directly to crimes in the area, they have encountered cases of criminals using the homeless and their camp as a cover.

Tygerdal resident Vaughn Cerff, believes the homeless under the bridge are a blight on the neighbourhood, not only posing an unacceptable risk for children walking past the bridge to get to and from school, but also threatening property values.

“I have heard about three robberies in and around that area. Children and people are too scared to walk under the bridge, but some just have no other option,” said Mr Cerff.

“People wouldn’t want to buy properties in the area if they see homeless people at every turn they make.”

He said the homeless slept in-between bushes under the bridge, and lit fires.

“This is extremely dangerous. What if that fire should spread? There are lots of properties surrounding the bridge, and because of the grass, the fire can easily spread. What if people’s properties burn, who will take responsibility for it?”

But the homeless themselves have their own worries: they say they are simply trying to survive.

John Jacob lives under the bridge with his girlfriend. He said they sought refuge there recently, fearing winter’s approach.

“We are all trying to make a life and find a warm place to sleep. People always think we are bad people, but we are human,” said Mr Jacob.

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“We’ve been on the streets for almost three and a half years. We made it this far, and we are still trying.”

He said he worked as a car guard in Voortrekker Road to make enough money to buy food.

“I don’t rob people to make a living, I try to make an honest living so me and my girlfriend can eat something every night.”

But sometimes he doesn’t earn enough and then he has to beg at people’s homes.

Monte Vista resident Annemarie Rademeyer worries about her children who catch the train to school and have to walk under or over the bridge to get to and from the station.

“The kids are not safe, as we don’t know what the people are capable of, and they always make remarks when children or people walk by.”

Tygerdal resident Clinton Roux claims there has been a spike in crime in the area since the homeless moved under the bridge.

While there is no direct evidence linking the homeless themselves to crime in the surrounding area, he believes they are at the very least a contributing factor and attract criminals to the area.

Lee Jepson, the chairwoman of the Monte Vista Neighbourhood Watch, said she had noticed the homeless people under the bridge about two months ago while doing community patrols.

At first there had been about four or five people in the camp, but that number had since grown to about eight or 10.

“If it is going to get bigger and bigger, it will cause major problems under the bridge. People use that bridge daily when they walk to and from the station,” she said.

“Where will we as the community end up if it keeps expanding? It’s not nice to see things like that; it is an eyesore.”

Ms Jepson said she wished there was something she could do to help the homeless people.

“We are human before we are anything else. I feel sorry for them, nobody wants to live on the streets, but we are all suffering and there is nothing we can do,” said Ms Jepson.

Goodwood police spokesman Lieutenant Waynne Theunis said homelessness had become a problem in the greater Goodwood area as socio-economic factors pushed more people onto the streets, but being homeless was not a criminal offence.

He confirmed that while someone had been robbed of their cellphone under the Monte Vista bridge on Tuesday April 5, there was no evidence tying those living under the bridge to the crime.

He said that there had been no increase in robberies in the Monte Vista area and no other robberies had been reported in that area in recent weeks.

However, he noted that police had arrested several criminals, such as muggers, who had posed as homeless people.

“Criminals are infiltrating the areas where the vagrants are sleeping. They then pose as vagrants when they perform criminal activities. Goodwood police have arrested a number of these criminals,” said Lieutenant Theunis.