Dear Neighbours in Ward 58
Re: Post State of Disaster – Reintegrating people living on our streets
As you know, the national government decreed that during the State of Disaster, SAPS and Law Enforcement were barred from disbanding squatters’ temporary shelters and moving them on. This encouraged more people to move through to our suburbs, where they felt safe away from gangs and crime in their particular areas. Unfortunately this unusual dispensation also drew people from gangs who could hide among the “homeless” and plan house and car break-ins. The head of SAPS Claremont pointed out at a CPF meeting that “if there were no homeless, there would be virtually no crime”. I myself met members of prison gangs (26, 27 and 28) among the homeless groups on the railway line, and was treated to a viewing of their tattoos.
The City of Cape Town is extraordinary in that we employ dedicated staff within the Street People Team whose goal is to restore the dignity and purpose of people living on our streets. Field officers identify people on the streets and engage with them, and reintegration officers work to bring them back into society and community They work tirelessly among these people to:
help and empower them to move off the streets into shelters,
reunite them with their families and communities, or
refer them to inpatient rehabilitation facilities.
Referrals for Health and other Departments
The Street People Team have also developed programmes to work with our “homeless” to build their sense of dignity; according to the staff for Area South, they are often lost and “don’t know who they are.” The programmes address questions such as:
- “Who am I?”;
- Gender-based violence;
- Life skills such as goal setting and boundaries;
- Conflict management and
- Substance abuse
I am in awe of the work the Street People team does, as I have walked through our suburbs with them and seen first-hand their gentleness, compassion, respect and sensitivity towards these marginalised people, and witnessed too the respect that people on our streets have for them. There is a level of trust that has grown due to the staff refusing ever to be present when law enforcement officers approach the people.
The Street People team also attends church “soup kitchens” where they can to connect with the twenty to thirty people who come for food and offer them services. You will read later why I lean towards discouraging these kinds of soup kitchens.
I believe that we would all agree that living on the streets is not an ideal lifestyle for anyone; the lack of ablution facilities and vulnerability to crime, the cold and the rain and the general indignity of it all would never be a healthy person’s first choice. Men who have been empowered by U-Turn have told me that in their restored condition, they would never choose the streets. However, many of the “homeless” have mental health problems and substance abuse issues. There is also a desire for freedom and lack of accountability; living in any community, be it a shelter, a rehabilitation centre, an informal settlement with services provided by the City, or a suburb, requires cooperation with the community’s leaders and the rules that the community decides on.
Why are people living on the streets of Claremont, Rondebosch and Kenilworth? I hear that our suburbs are known as “the big apple” because of the “rich pickings” available. With the kindest and noblest of intentions, we provide soup kitchens and give food, cash, clothes, tents and household items to people living rough, and that is what attracts them to our particular streets. We also put unwanted kitchen appliances, clothes and recycling waste in our bins; hence the scratching in our bins on waste collection day.
I myself am searching my heart to ask myself why I want to give cash to beggars and car guards who evidently are not formally employed to watch my car. Is it guilt over our country’s past? Is it to satisfy my conscience quickly so that I can forget about their plight? How will my giving cash and other goods to them help them in the long term? Having listened to and learned from the Street People team, I have concluded that by giving handouts directly to the people on our streets, I am actually doing more harm than good. I am enabling their substance abuse habits and financing their next drink or drug fix. I am making it possible and easier to stay outside rather than to accept the hand-up offered by the City and organisations like U-Turn.
That is how I have come to a decision never to give cash or any item to people on the streets. I will instead give financially to the City’s “Give Dignity” programme, the Haven, Oasis and YMCA, and buy the vouchers that U-Turn sells at local shops which provide food and set them on the road to recovery. I want to invite you to do the same, for the sake of the homeless beggar, and for the sake of your neighbourhood.
“What is out there for them?” You may ask, when considering where and how to give. I encourage you to do research on the organisations listed above, and I will let you know what our City is doing.
The City provides three “safe spaces” and several shelters which it funded by Provincial Social Development.
There are three designated “safe spaces”:
- “Paint City” in Bellville
- “Culemborg 2” with prefab shelters and
- “Culemborg 1” – both areas under the motorway in the City of Cape Town.
For the formal City shelters, non-profit organisations are selected through the City’s tender process, to do the day-to-day running, and the operational expenses are funded by the City. All other non-profit shelters are funded by the Western Cape Provincial Government.
The Mayor has allocated an extra R10 million of the budget to shelters and safe spaces run by both Cape Town and by non-profit organisations, in preparation for winter. This funding will supply the shelters with more beds and mattresses, food and toiletry packs. The City will fund more Expanded Public Work Programme (EPWP) job opportunities so that people can be employed to cook, clean and help at these centres.
Another R10 million has been allocated by the City for additional safe spaces, and the planning office is still deciding where these will be. There is no safe space in “Central” or “South”, where we fit.
What makes the City’s safe spaces very beneficial to guests is the therapy and development work that is offered. There are:
- Outpatient rehabilitation programmes;
- Social workers on duty;
- Clear rules and boundaries which protect guests from abuse by one another. The boundaries include times by which people need to arrive for the night, and no alcohol or drugs being permitted on site.
- The safe spaces are manned by 24/7 security, who check the perimeter and guard the entrance gates.
- To prevent gender-based violence (GBV), men and women sleep separately.
I did ask why there is not more accommodation for couples, as the Retreat Haven Shelter is the only facility offering rooms for couples. A social worker explained to me that when this was provided, there was a large amount of GBV, male to female and even female to male. Fights would also break out when one spouse left for someone else’s spouse.
Now that the State of Disaster for Covid-19 is over, the City is proceeding with thousands of eviction orders to go through our courts, to move squatters away from our streets and public open spaces. The Mayor is prioritising “Area North” where we have the most tents and people living on the streets: this is the City and Atlantic Seaboard areas. Our ward (Kenilworth, Claremont and Rondebosch) falls under “Area South” and “Area Central”.
Teams are classifying further “hot-spot areas” to be prioritised based on both the number of tents and people, and the number of complaints about “vagrants” through the 107 phone number or C3 online requests logged.
Our Social Worker “Field Officers” visit each person on the streets and offer them accommodation up to six times, before they refer a settlement to Law Enforcement.
I want to encourage you to log as many C3 requests and make as many 107 calls regarding people living on your streets, as possible, in order for our suburbs to be prioritised.
Please know that every person living on our streets is being offered alternative accommodation, again and again, by the City’s Street People team; I have witnessed this myself. Only if a person has been offered accommodation and has rejected it more than 6 times, may Law Enforcement proceed with an eviction. And Law Enforcement has to do this legally, with a court order.
Thank you for working with me to make our streets and neighbourhoods safer, by cooperating with the advice I have given above. I ask you not to give cash and handouts to those living on our streets, but rather to give generously to the “Give Dignity” programme and the non-profit organisations working in our community. I encourage you to volunteer too, to see first-hand the wonderful and restorative work that is being done by these NPOs. I have seen how we can work together as a community, and am enjoying getting to know you and your civic-based organisation leaders. Your kindness and dedication to others’ well-being has given me so much hope for our suburbs, for Cape Town and for South Africa.
Katherine Christie Ward Councillor, Ward 58