The CBD lends a hand

Many homeless people who opted to stay on the streets are struggling to earn an income during lockdown.

While the City has moved a number of the CBD’s homeless community to the Culemborg safe space, as well as to the temporary shelter in Strandfontein to adhere to the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, many have still remained on the streets.

With the help of NGOs, businesses and residents in the city centre, homeless people have so far had access to meals and social services despite not having a roof over their heads for the lockdown, which is now at Level 4 with slightly eased restrictions.

The City Central Improvement District (CCID) social development manager, Pat Eddy, said “phenomenal” work has been done to alleviate the suffering of street people and provide ongoing care since the nationwide lockdown was enforced and then extended.

She said the CCID has been playing a supportive role to its NGO partners, helping to provide additional food, personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and gloves, soap, hand sanitiser, mobile hand sanitiser stations, blankets, shoes and personal hygiene care bags with basic toiletries.

When the lockdown was first announced in March, the City had identified several sites to temporarily house homeless people.

One of the first spaces made available was the parking lot adjacent to the Culemborg safe space, which accommodated 250 people in tents and was equipped with sanitation facilities.

The safe space currently houses 187 people, with others being reintegrated or returned to the street. Homeless people were also transported to Strandfontein, Mitchell’s Plain, where the controversial camp housed around 1 500 people (“Call for camp’s closure”, CapeTowner, April 16).

While the Culemborg shelter and safe space has continued operations and work with homeless people on site, the City said they were finalising the closure of the Strandfontein temporary shelter for street people, and the accommodation needs of those on site who have requested ongoing assistance.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health, Zahid Badroodien, said in a statement, that of the people at the Strandfontein shelter, 356 people have indicated that they would prefer remaining in a safe space, instead of returning to the streets, and about 120 people have indicated they would like to return to their families and have integrated back to their communities.

He added that the Mayoral Committee has also given the go-ahead for the procurement of prefabricated structures to be placed on vacant City land next to existing shelters, where this is a viable option.

The benefit of this, rather than temporary pop-up shelters is that beds will remain available even after the Covid-19 pandemic for homeless to access at their convenience.

Dr Badroodien said there were homeless people who were housed at Strandfontein that have opted to return to the streets, with some of them already returned to their areas of origin.

“Despite our best intentions, it is a reality that many people simply refuse any form of assistance. They cannot be forced to accept help either, since it is not illegal to be homeless. The level 4 lockdown regulations removes the authority of the state to evacuate a homeless person from any place to a shelter as a necessary precaution to preserve life. This goes to say that if a homeless person chooses not to access a shelter, the City cannot place an individual in a shelter without their consent.”

Ms Eddy said was difficult to estimate the number of homeless people, as some individuals who originally went to Strandfontein have now also returned to the streets of the CBD.

“We previously estimated about 800 individuals but we could in the future find many more looking for opportunities to earn an income people in the CBD especially where they have lost previous employment.”

Asked about the increase of structures in the CBD and on the fields in District Six, Mr Badroodien said homeless people tend to congregate in areas where economic opportunities exist or where they have easy access to handouts.

However, with empty streets, there is limited income opportunities for homeless people, and NGOs in the city centre have been working hard to provide services to the homeless.

Ms Eddy said while donations stream in, more assistance is required as the need is ongoing. Strategic partnership manager at Khulisa Solutions, Jesse Laitenan, said the team had been providing transportation and accommodation, food and water, sanitisers and soap, and information about the coronavirus and the lockdown.

“We are committed to finding real solutions by organising smaller sites that can accommodate those left without help on the streets,” she said.

The CBD-based upliftment NGO recently established a new home for 26 beneficiaries in Chester Road, Walmer Estate, and urgently needs bedding, non-perishable food, cleaning utensils and appliances.

Hassan Khan, CEO of The Haven Night Shelter, says that it has been really tough with extremely high demand and constrained food supply

“Retailers usually give us food that is close to its sell-by-date, but since lockdown they have tightened up the stock available so there is less wastage.”

He said donations of money and bulk food items by the public will also make a massive difference.

Danny Diliberto, founder of Ladles of Love, says its Covid-19 Food & Sandwich Drive has grown in leaps and bounds since the start of the national lockdown.

Mr Diliberto said the team’s food production has increased by 1000 % and the need just keeps growing. “Before the lockdown, we were doing about 1.2 tons of food a week. We are now doing about 10 tons a week which is incredible.”

The NGO has partnered with the Cape Town International Convention Centre, who has offered the NPO more than 1 500m2 of space to serve as Ladles of Love’s temporary logistics headquarters from until the end of June this year.

Karen Cain, operations manager for The Service Dining Rooms, said the NGO is feeding up to 400 people a day and supplying drinking water.

Approximately 200 pre-packaged meals are given to the micro groups of homeless people who are staying under bridges and in homemade shacks, from the CBD through to Muizenberg.

The rest of the meals are distributed to the homeless outside their premises in Canterbury Street.

Ms Cairn said that there is a huge need for food for creches and primary school children, because the school feeding schemes have virtually come to a standstill.

Ms Eddy said many CBD stakeholders have also helped, including Beerhouse which has opened its kitchen to feed street people by making and donating soup to Ladles of Love and the Community Chest, which has set up a Covid-19 emergency health fund and is distributing supplies from its basement.

“It’s been wonderful to see how NGOs and businesses have pulled together during this time.” She said people can join Cape Town Together Community Action Network – particularly the CBD CAN (Community Action Network) for inner-city residents – to get involved through volunteering or donations. “This group is playing a pivotal role in helping the homeless to get the assistance they need, and to provide care packs, including masks, soap, sanitiser and a towel cloth to NGOs that work with the homeless in the CBD.”