Homeless people challenge City of Cape Town

Ndifuna Ukwazi has denounced the City of Cape Town’s efforts to solicit complaints from the public against homeless people.

The City has, in what it called a “citizen’s campaign”, called on ratepayers, residents and business owners to express “concerns”relating to the impact of homeless persons on them.

Ndifuna Ukwazi said in a media release on May 27 that the City’s solicitation of complaints is tantamount to inciting hatred against those experiencing homelessness and will only exacerbate their vulnerability and marginalisation.

“The criminalisation of homelessness is a cruel, inhumane and unsustainable response to addressing the challenges faced by those living on the streets,” the statements reads.

The City’s call comes in the wake of 11 homeless people launching applications in both the Western Cape High Court and the Equality Court challenging the constitutionality and discriminatory impact of two of the City of Cape Town’s municipal by-laws; namely the By-law relating to Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances (2007) and the Integrated Waste Management By-law (2009).

One of the applicants, Carin Gelderbloem, says this case was opened mid-2019, but due to the national lockdown in 2020 the matter was halted.

The applications was launched at the end of March.

“This started two years ago when I was fined R500 by law enforcement for littering and dumping,” said Ms Gelderbloem, who has been homeless for nine years.

“I went to a street people’s forum where they discussed the fines being issued to homeless people, and I was the only homeless person there. That’s when I decided that this has to go to court. Fortunately for me the Community Chest were at the meeting and arranged for a lawyer to represent the homeless to challenge the fines and the by-laws.

“We have not been in court for this matter but we will wait. We want these by-laws to be reviewed, there needs to be changes. Homeless people are people too and we need to be protected and treated with respect,” she said.

Homeless shelters close to Helen Suzman Boulevard.

The applicants are represented by Jonty Cogger, attorney at Ndifuna Ukwazi’s law centre.

“These by-laws criminalise homelessness by making it a crime for persons living on the street to conduct ordinary life-sustaining activities, like sleeping, camping, resting, bathing, erecting a shelter or keeping personal belongings in public,” Mr Cogger said.

“The City has labelled these activities ’anti-social behaviour’ and has used these by-laws to issue fines of up to R2 000 against homeless people for unavoidable conduct. Every day, these by-laws are used by the City’s law enforcement officers to threaten, harass, arrest and, in some instances, forcefully displace homeless people as well as confiscate what little possessions homeless people own,“ Mr Cogger said.

“I’ve had my shelter broken down, I’ve had my clothes, my identity document, my dentures, taken with no reason and probably thrown away by law enforcement officials. They told me I have no rights and they speak to us rudely, they have no respect,” said Ms Gelderbloem.

Homeless shelters opposite the Sea Point police station.

According to Green Point Neighbourhood Watch (GPNW) chairman, Peter Flentov, they have over 150 members who are supporting their position to oppose the application of the homeless people.

A statement from the (GPNW) says the relief sought by the 11 named homeless persons in their suit against the City of Cape Town would create a dangerous precedent where one group of individuals is exempted without qualification from laws that apply to the rest of the community. This, is and of itself, would be discriminatory.

“We also believe that if this unqualified exemption is granted it would have dangerous consequences in that the homeless might feel that because they are exempt from the by-laws they can act with impunity. This is likely to foster the growth of petty crime, especially with SAPS already under-resourced in many areas. We therefore support the City of Cape Town in its opposition to the matter brought by the eleven named homeless persons,” the statement reads.

Homeless shelters on Bill Peters Drive, up against the tennis court fences.

The homeless people that filed the application are: Carin Gelderbloem, Lauren Fredericks, Vuyo Mbozi, Natasha Persent, Richard Mabeko, Xolani Siboxo, Valencia Nabelemtwini, Jimmy Ensil, Tracy de Vries and Johan van der Poel.

The Atlantic Sun approached the City’s legal representatives for comment but they declined.

However, in a City media release on May 23, after mayor Dan Plato concluded a Give Dignity campaign drive in which he engaged people living on the street in various parts of the city, reaching out together with Reintegration Unit officials, Mr Plato said as the mayor of the city, “I take pride in how our City works for everybody who lives in it, and how we show care for those who are struggling. No person should live on the streets, and we must not create homes on streets. It is clear to me that drugs play a big role in why many people are living on the street. Fortunately, there are solutions through the Matrix programme. Help is available at shelters and Safe Spaces. These are the solutions our officials are offering every single day to people living on the street.”

Legal representatives for both parties could not provide dates for when the applications would be heard in the respective courts.