Homeless ‘just shifted around’

Legal Aid South Africa lawyers Nondumiso Mkonto and Tatum Scullard.

Three out of four street people refuse the help offered to get them off the street, a City of Cape Town official told the Sub-council 4 meeting last week.

Vijen Rugbee, from the City’s street people programme, said law enforcement were “just moving the problem around” from one spot to another. There had been 34 calls to the public complaints line about street people in Ward 26 (including parts of Goodwood and Parow) from April to June, and 112 complaints from Ward 27 (Goodwood, Tygerdal, Glenwood).

“When they see us coming, they just move to another place,” Mr Rugbee said. “Once a person refuses assistance, what can we do?”

According to 2015 statistics presented to sub-council, there are
7 383 homeless people in the city,
4 862 of whom live on the streets and the remaining 2 521 in shelters. Almost 80 percent are men and they range in age from 18 to 66.

City staff trying to help those homeless who wanted help, had to contend with the threat posed by criminals on the streets as well as the strained relationships between the homeless and their relatives.

“Sometimes families do not want to take in street people,” Mr Rugbee said.

Sub-council 4 chairman Chris Jordaan told Mr Rugbee about the police barracks behind the court and police station in Parow, which the City wants demolished (“Barracks to be thrown down”, Northern News, March 29).

“The barracks is empty. We visited that area to see if it can be used as a shelter. It can host more than
2 000 people,” Mr Jordaan said.

Mr Rugbee said the official who had gone with Mr Jordaan to the barracks was no longer with the programme.

He said the City’s plan was to support existing shelters “so that they can take in more people”.

Ward 26 councillor Franchesca Walker said street people posed a serious problem in Goodwood and Parow.

“When we go to ratepayers’ meetings, they (residents) come down hard on me and Cecile (Janse van Rensburg, of Ward 27) about street people in Goodwood,” she said.

Mr Rugbee said the City’s Give Responsibly campaign was being reviewed – and would be known as Hand Up, Not Hand Out.

Councillor Beverley van Reenen, the area-based oversight committee chairperson, said people who had lost their jobs often stayed on in the area where they had lived or worked because it made them feel safe there.

“They live literally in filth. What is the City doing because it is an unhealthy situation?”

Ms Van Reenen said she had her doubts about the City’s Give Responsibly campaign.

Ms Janse van Rensburg said street people had complained to her about shelters. “Do you visit the shelters to see what is happening there?” she asked Mr Rugbee.

Mr Jordaan said street people also complained that they had to pay to sleep at the shelters, but could not afford to.

However, Mr Rugbee said when a street person accepted social assistance from the City, they were placed at a shelter and did not have to pay.

He said there had been success stories, including a man who accepted help and was now united with his family in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, after having spent time on the streets in Bellville.

“There are success stories, although most of the time we get complaints,” he said.

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