NGOs to challenge City on by-laws

South Africa - Cape Town - 8 July 2019 - Representatives of local homeless shelters and various NGO's working with people living on the street, has engaged in a meeting to discuss the way forward. The City of Cape Town has been called out for enforcing a by-law that enables people living on the streets to be fined for their lifestyle. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Following the public outrage over the fining of homeless people, city centre forums and NGOs met to discuss how best to challenge the City’s by-laws.

The Street People’s Forum, comprising representatives of Straatwerk U-Turn, the City Central Improvement District (CCID), Youth Solutions Africa, The Hope Exchange (formerly the Carpenter Shop), Cape Town Central police, Service Dining Rooms and concerned residents, among others, called an emergency meeting on Thursday July 11 to issue a collective response.

The CBD-based Community Chest had also called a meeting at its Bree Street offices on Monday July 8, which was attended by organisations involved in the protection of street people, the South African Human Rights Commission and the SA National Network on Street Homelessness.

Also in attendance were individuals with expertise on the subject in their private capacities as well as legal representatives offering their pro-bono services to people issued with fines.

Several homeless people in the city were recently fined up to R1 500 under the public places and prevention of noise nuisances by-laws.

Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith said the City’s Law Enforcement unit had issued 199 fines following an increase of complaints about homeless people, but argued that rather than targeting homeless people, the City was merely enforcing its by-laws (“‘By-laws apply to all citizens’,” CapeTowner, July 11).

The stakeholders all expressed concern that the decision to issue fines under the current by-laws to the most vulnerable and poorest citizens was a betrayal of the essence and values of our Constitution.

“It amounts to fining poor people for being poor (and) criminalises poverty,” said Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids.

He added that not all homeless people made use of the available diversion programmes because they were not suitable for their particular circumstances, for example families living on the streets. “This too must be understood within the context of not developing ‘one size fits all’ solutions to the very complex issues of what leads to homelessness.”

The problem, however, was not only a City one and national government had to play its part as well, he said. “National collaboration by agencies working with homeless persons as well as the homeless community itself, needs to begin mapping strategies, policies and solutions that will more appropriately address the challenges faced by homeless and displaced persons,” said Mr Davids.

The meeting agreed that there was an urgent need to investigate the current by-laws in relation to its alignment to the Constitution of South Africa, particularly as they had been promulgated in 2007 and had clearly become outdated.

Meanwhile, emotions ran high in the Street Peoples’ Forum meeting, when homeless woman Carin Rhoode called for homeless people to be represented in meetings where matters relating to them were discussed.

An emotional Ms Rhoode described how authorities treated people on the streets and said she had been assaulted in a night shelter – which was why she would never return.

Youth Solutions Africa representative JP Percette suggested a march to keep the pressure on the City to change the by-laws. “The City seems to back off when the public has an outcry. We shouldn’t back down.”

Owen Butler, who had been on the streets for 10 years but was now rehabilitated, raised concerns about the homeless been criminalised.

“These fines build criminals. Homeless people go to jail and comes back as criminals – how will we stop that?”

The City’s suggestion that homeless people should go to shelters or the safe space in Coulemberg was also criticised.

Danny Diliberto, the founder of Ladles of Love feeding scheme spent 48 hours on the street last year to try to change the narrative about homelessness. (“Taking to the streets”, CapeTowner, November 11 2018).

He said the shelter he stayed at had been “not well-kept and was filthy”.

He added: “The City needs to stop telling people to go to shelters if they are in the condition that they are in. They need to invest money into shelters if they want a better managed homeless community.”

The meeting became tense when Mayoral committee member for human settlements, Dr Zahid Badroodien, was told by the floor to listen rather than explain what the City was doing.

Those in attendance also called for legal assistance for the homeless, a challenge against the by-laws; the immediate suspension of the by-law; the suspension of fines issued; a march to support the plight of homeless people; and an urgent addressing of housing issues on all levels.

Chairperson od the Street Peoples’ Forum Hannes van der Merwe said everyone should leave with one commitment: to work
jointly towards the dignity of street people.

It was reported that the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), had also thrown its weight behind the cause, and that it had put together a legal team to challenge the by-laws. Nadel, however, did not respond to queries from the CapeTowner by the time this edition went to print.