City says it’s not targeting the homeless

A homeless person in the CBD.

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.

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 CapeTowner 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.”

Central City Improvement District (CCID) security manager Muneeb Hendricks said while there had been major backlash in the media about the City fining homeless people, he said it was not homeless people being targeted, but bad behaviour.

The CCID has a social development leg, which focuses on assisting street people with the services they need, and engages with street people daily.

He said homeless people should be treated like any other citizens.

Mr Hendricks said on a daily basis, people were harassed by aggressive beggars in the CBD, or exposed to drug usage in public.

A business owner in Long Street, Ed Saunders, said one of the biggest concerns for the businesses in Long Street was aggressive begging.

He said a number of initiatives have been put in place to assist homeless people and the aggressive beggars, the latest being a six-month programme in partnership with CBD NGO Streetscapes, where businesses have raised funds to provide work for homeless people – which was also an extension of the Long Street bin project (“Project to keep CBD grime free”, CapeTowner, February 18, 2018).

However, he said, they didn’t come back, or they skipped work for days. “There are no repercussions for these people. If they do not want to accept the help offered to them, then what is the next step?”

He commended Mr Smith and the CCID for trying their best to deal with the issues and behaviour of the street people in the city, and said the anti-social behaviour could not be tolerated.

“I really feel for homeless people and I am really saddened by their circumstances, but we cannot accept being exposed to people using drugs in public, using sidewalks as toilets, or aggressive begging and harassing just because they are homeless.”

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.

A homeless woman who spoke to the CapeTowner said she received a R500 fine for her structure at De Waal park after she was moved by the CCID from the Company’s Garden.

She said she was told the fine was for dumping.

She said couldn’t pay it and was worried about going to jail. “The City is playing dirty with the homeless people. Everyone speaks about helping, including the City, but no one does anything.”

However, Mr Smith said issuing of fines was a last resort. “In most instances, street people will receive a warning and be offered social assistance. Fines are issued as a last resort and in the case of repeated offences.

“Any citizen who is accused of transgressing a by-law has the option of going to court and explaining their particular situation. The courts usually take into consideration each person’s circumstances before making a decision.”

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 (“Haven for the homeless”, CapeTowner, March 2, 2018).