Street people debate

Various labels are applied to this community of drifters: homeless people, street people, displaced persons, vagrants.

The City has a street people policy and a displaced persons unit (a group of dedicated people who tirelessly engage with the same people trying to persuade them to move to shelters, reconnect with their families and become employed).

Realistically, many street people are either unemployable, for a number of justifiable reasons, or they simply refuse employment; and, in most instances, they refuse to leave their life on the streets.

In Cape Town, NPOs like Straatwerk offer them nominal income through co-operation with ratepayer associations and private organisations; and the City uses its Extended Public Works Programme to employ them in temporary projects.

The City’s street people policy (unless amended since I checked it a few years ago) discourages the public from providing any means of financial support or food or clothing as this counters the efforts of the City to persuade them to move to shelters where they can at least have a bed to sleep on and a warm nourishing meal.

This is social upliftment, however small. It’s a start and it underpins the City’s “give responsibly” campaign.

Sadly, the opponents to the City’s policy perceive it as uncaring (despite the City having caring as one its five foundation pillars) and denigrate it as “the perpetuation of apartheid policies”, notwithstanding that Cape Town’s administration bends over backwards to redress that pre-democratic evil spending 67 percent of ratepayer income on the poor.

The sight of “have-nots” rummaging through refuse bins outside homes and apartment blocks or through the green bins at intersections or in public places always dismays those of us who are the privileged “haves”.

I have photographs taken on High Level Road, Sea Point ,on Friday January 20. From close observation and interest in this tragic scenario, I can confirm that most street people who rummage through bins outside apartment blocks do leave them closed and tidy after they’ve removed what they want, no doubt because the bodies corporate of those apartment blocks are compassionate about letting them access the bins but insist that they may only do so if they leave the bins tidy afterwards (in some instances they even allow the street people to assist them in transferring the bins from the property to the street which, in my view, is totally wrong as it further encourages them to remain “street” people).

But the issue is not that they’re left tidy or untidy: it’s having weekly access to the bins that’s the problem, as that encourages street people to remain on the streets.

The bottom line is that our bins should be unable to be opened while awaiting emptying by the municipal refuse teams – and there is a device which achieves this while not interfering in any way with the vehicle’s mechanical hoist and the emptying of the bin into the truck. Remove the incentive for street people to remain on the streets by preventing them from accessing the refuse bins.

This has nothing to do with compassion and everything to do with reducing a tragic social problem.