After coming under fire from the public about fining homeless people for obstructing pavements and erecting structures, the City of Cape Town said it was not targeting street people, and merely enforcing by-laws.
The mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said the issue had been misrepresented through reports that a new by-law has come into place, where street people are being fined.
“The by-law in question – streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances – has been in place since 2007.
The City has seen an increase in the number of complaints relating to street people. In responding to complaints, officers are enforcing the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances, as well as the integrated waste management by-law, as they have for many years.”
He said any person found in contravention of a City by-law is liable to a fine – homeless or not.
“Enforcement staff have a duty to enforce by-laws, especially when officers have to respond to complaints and service requests from the public.
“Many businesses complain about street people urinating and defecating at their shop entrances, and being greeted by this site when they open their shops daily.”
It was reported that the South African Human Rights Commission was probing the matter, however, the Atlantic Sun could not reach them for comment by the time this edition went to print.
The issue has attracted the interest of stakeholders in the city centre, who battle with street people, aggressive begging, and concerns of criminals hiding among the homeless.
A survey of street people conducted in 2015 by the City showed that there were about 700 street people living in the CBD.
The number has increased since then, but the City said the data was currently being analysed and therefore not ready for release yet. Mr Smith said a large number of homeless people refused to go to shelters.
The mayoral committee member for community services and health, Zahid Badroodien, said there were many reasons people migrated to the street, but these tend to be linked to socio-economic factors, substance abuse and domestic violence.
“We also find that many people on the streets are job-seekers from other towns in the country, and many undocumented foreign nationals. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the number of parolees living on the street, as Correctional Services releases more persons from its facilities as a means of dealing with overcrowding.”
Chairperson for the Sea Point Central Improvement District, Heather Tager, said this was a difficult issue to deal with. She said she was not sure whether the fining of the homeless would yield results.
She said they have a field worker who is dedicated in helping the homeless get their lives back and through this, they have helped a number of homeless people living in the Sea Point.
“We’ve placed some in shelters, some managed to get jobs but unfortunately, some refuse the help,” she said.
Ms Tager said they constantly receive complaints from residents and while they believe that not all homeless people participate in criminal activities, they’ve found some in possession of illegal goods.
“Homeless people have different stories, I don’t think anyone wants to live in the streets. But some refuse to be taken to the shelters because they don’t want to be disciplined,” she said.
Ian Veary, a social worker at the Carpenter Shop in Roeland Street, said some of his clients had been fined last week, but he was yet to see the fines and what they were for. “From what I see in the news, they are for obstructing pavements and erecting shelters.”
He said while there were by-laws that people should abide by, the City itself identifies homeless people as a vulnerable group needing assistance. “My view is that they are using security to solve a social issue, and that’s not the way to go about it.”
Asked about the City saying they were merely enforcing by-laws for everyone, Mr Veary said: “I think the idea is a bit ingenious because the people issuing the fines are well aware that these people they are fining are homeless, and a different approach is needed. The City has the resources to explore different options.”
He said homeless people in the CBD could survive here because there were a number of services and feeding schemes.
Dr Badroodien said the City’s Street People Unit conducted daily outreache programmes, offering assistance to street people. The offers range from temporary shelter, reunification with their families, access to social services and even temporary work opportunities through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).
“In the last year, we have been able to offer a one-stop basket of services through our Culemborg Safe Space. So far, an estimated 700 persons have made use of the services at the site.