City’s eviction of homeless delayed

The City’s process to evict illegal occupiers on public land has been opposed

The City of Cape Town has expressed disappointment at a late notice to oppose it’s high court application for evictions of unlawful occupiers in various areas in the city centre.

In February this year, the court ordered the serving of eviction notices at unlawful occupation hotspots along Buitengracht Street, FW De Klerk Boulevard, Foregate Square, Taxi Rank and Foreshore, Helen Suzman Boulevard, Strand Street, Foreshore/N1, Virginia Avenue and Mill Street Bridge in the city.

Illegal occupiers under the N1 bridge on Foreshore

The court was scheduled to consider granting a final eviction order last Wednesday, April 19, when a Johannesburg NGO filed an eleventh-hour notice to oppose the City of Cape Town’s Western Cape High Court application.

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said that the City was “very disappointed” at the extremely late notice to oppose which was filed by the Socio Economic Rights Institute (SERI) well beyond the deadline, which allowed over a month for such notice to be filed.

“With the court roll so full, a late filing such as this not only wastes state resources, but causes severe delays in the hearing of the matter. In the City’s view, the net effect of this will be to keep people on the streets much longer through the Cape winter.”

The next available court date to hear the matter will be on Monday October 9.

Kuselwa Dyantyi, an attorney at SERI, which assists people facing evictions, said they were approached by a lobby group called Group 4 Developers about two weeks ago to legally assist in the matter.

Ms Dyantyi said after consulting with the occupiers, they submitted an order to oppose the eviction to the City’s lawyers.

“The eviction by the City was on an unopposed court roll, so the matter will now be revisited after engagement and consultation with the City.”

She said the late submission was due to the fact that the occupiers did not have legal representation until now. She said the next step is to engage with the City to find a solution to the issues presented by the occupiers.

Group 4 Developers chairperson Rian Koeberg said they were helping the illegal occupiers because the City had failed them from the beginning by not providing adequate housing for those on the list, which resulted in them having to live on the street.

The lobby group, he said, were fighting the City’s inadequate housing system, and some of the occupiers which were being evicted formed part of the lobby group.

Ms Dyantyi said the occupiers have homes on the respective sites in the city, and wanted to know what will happen to them once they are removed.

In a statement, the City said officials have made repeated offers of social assistance to those occupying public spaces in the city, including offers of dignified transitional shelter at NGO-run night shelters and City-run Safe Spaces.

These facilities offer programmes to help people off the streets, and to reintegrate into society, or reunite with family. Addiction treatment, referral for psychiatric treatment, personal development planning and employment opportunities are also offered, said the statement.

While some have accepted these offers of support, the unlawful occupants who received these notices are those who have consistently refused all offers of social assistance while continuing to unlawfully occupy busy intersections and road reserves in the CBD.

The City approaches the court only in the last instance, in cases where all offers of support are indefinitely refused.

Asked about the occupiers who refused help, Ms Dyantyi said there were a number of people who stayed at shelters previously, and there were many challenges they had with staying at these spaces.

One of those issues were the times they were to arrive and leave the shelters, because many of them work as car guards at night and cannot make it to the shelters.

“They didn’t reject the City’s help, they need direction.”

Mr Koeberg added that shelters were not an option for people because of lack of privacy, and other concerns including stealing, and the children being removed from parents.

“At least in a shelter in the street, they have a place to call home. They have privacy.”

He said shelters were not a long-term solution.

“In two or three weeks people leave the shelter and go back to the streets.”

Ms Dyantyi said the objection process also opened up an opportunity for meaningful dialogue, and that the homeless people were now able to raise their concerns with the City, and come to an agreement, which could even be settled before the court date.

If they cannot agree, the matter will be heard in court, she said, with SERI representing the illegal occupiers.

The statement by the City said they will “welcome any constructive engagement on our well-publicised plan to increase dignified transitional shelter and help more people off the streets, with court assistance where necessary”.

“However it is most unfortunate that the extensive delay in the hearing of our CBD application has been caused solely by the very late filing of the notice of opposition by SERI.

The City said it remains of the view that no person has the right to reserve a public space as exclusively theirs, while indefinitely refusing all offers of shelter and social assistance.

“Our city’s public places serve important social and community purposes, and must be open and available for all. Illegal occupations of City open spaces impact the safety of traffic and pedestrians, as well as local businesses critical to growing the economy.

“Accepting social assistance to get off the streets is the best choice for dignity, health, and well-being,’ said Mayor Hill-Lewis.

City expanding Safe Space dignified transitional shelters

Public participation is currently open on an over 300-bed Safe Space for Green Point, to help people off the streets in the CBD and seaboard area, the City said in a statement.

In total, this will increase the City’s safe space beds to around 750 in the CBD area, with around 450 beds across two Safe Space facilities at Culemborg in the east of the CBD.

Yet more new beds will follow as the City works to help expand NGO-run shelters operating on municipal-owned land in central Cape Town, as well as the annual seasonal bed boost as part of the City’s Winter Readiness Campaign 2023.

The City said they will further increase Safe Space capacity in Bellville, Muizenberg, Durbanville and elsewhere in the metro, working together with NGO partners, CIDs and residents.

The City has budgeted R230m over the next three years to operate and expand Safe Space transitional shelter, a 62% increase over the previous three-year budget cycle.

In total, the City’s Street People programme budget amounts to R94,75m for 23/24, a 23% increase from 22/23 as the only metro dedicating a social development budget to this critical issue.

This is besides support to NGO-run shelters, including to help to expand beds at those operating on municipal land. Over three years, R75m will be available through grant-in-aid funding to NGOs, including those working to help people off the streets.

The City further runs the Matrix substance abuse treatment programme, with an 80% success rate for clients, addressing a key driver of why people end up on the streets.

The City’s Safe Space model includes:

  • dignified shelter,
  • comfort and ablutions,
  • two meals per day,
  • access to a social worker on-site,
  • personal development planning,
  • various social services including ID Book and social grant assistance,
  • family reunification services
  • access to substance and alcohol abuse treatment,
  • skills training,
  • help finding a job, and
  • access to EPWP work placement

Dr Jonty Cogger, attorney at housing activist organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi, said the shelter system is not designed to provide a long-term solution to homelessness.

“It provides transient ad-hoc accommodation limited to a six-month stay. In fact, shelters are called ‘night shelters’. The biggest concern is that once evicted and their stay at a shelter expires, the majority of homeless people will return to the streets because there are no other viable options.

“Evicting unlawful occupiers would have merit if the state was actually delivering on their constitutional promises, but regrettably, the opposite has occurred with a steady decline in housing delivery over the past 20 years.”

The former CEO of the Haven Night Shelters Hassan Khan, who has 25 years of experience with night shelters, said while the City needs shelters, like clinics and hospitals, to stabilise the emergency situations people on the streets find themselves in, it can never be a permanent solution.

“To think that this will be permanent is irrational – it will only work to get people off the streets if it opens up a process of reintegration into society and into the families of people living on the streets.”