As City moves to find space for its homeless people during the 21-day national lockdown, which is in place until midnight Thursday April 16, six people from Johannesburg and Durban have found themselves stranded in the city centre, with no place to go and no hope of returning home.
John Lowson, an electrician who came by bus from Durban with his wife, Angel, father and a friend last Sunday, has been sleeping in Buitenkant Street opposite Cape Town Central SAPS since president Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown last Monday.
“I came for work, and my family had never seen Cape Town before, so they came along,” he said.
“We had enough money to sustain us until my first pay check, until the job fell through due to the lockdown.”
Ms Lowson said her first time in Cape Town turned into a nightmare when they became stranded. “We are not homeless. I can’t live on the streets – there are no ablutions and no food or water,” she told the CapeTowner.
Mr Lowson said they sought help from Cape Town Central police when they realised they wouldn’t make it back due to the local travel bans.
Mr Lowson said: “We went to the police station and they said we must come back on Thursday. We then went to the department of social development, who sent us to the Haven Night Shelter, but we were turned away because it was full.
“We’ve been to the Safe Space (on the Foreshore), and they are also full. Now we are stuck here.”
Mr Lowson accused Cape Town Central police of being unhelpful, and claimed they would not let his wife use the toilet or give them water.
He said they had nearly been robbed a few times, and at night, they feared their belongings would be stolen.
Mr Lowson said they desperately needed a space to stay until the lockdown was over.
“We are worried. A nearby business has been helping us with water and to charge our phones, but the police officers treated us like rubbish.”
Quinton Niemand, who joined the “camp”, said he and a friend arrived from Johannesburg on Monday before the lockdown was announced, in search of better opportunities.
“We couldn’t get into a place of safety, and walked from Bellville because we were turned away. We are not homeless, but we are struggling to find food, or even water.”
Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, said the police station was currently on lockdown, limiting access to the police station to ensure the safety of officers.
He said the people who came to seek help at the police station were not turned away, but advised to go to the Safe Space expanded structures, which were put in place by the City to assist the vulnerable.
However, the expanded structure at the parking lot opposite the City’s Coulemborg Safe Space has already been filled to capacity, said ward councillor Dave Bryant.
The parking lot was turned into a temporary site for the destitute, with tents having been erected and sanitation facilities brought there.
Mr Bryant said the temporary site was able to accommodate 250 vulnerable people and measures had been put in place to ensure social distancing was adhered to.
“The idea was to get people from the surrounds into the site nearest to them, however, people are coming from all over to be accommodated, which is putting additional pressure on the City,” he said.
He added that the City was looking at additional space for its more than 6 000 homeless people around the metro.
“If there is space and homeless people refuse the shelter, due to the lockdown, our law enforcement officers will be compelled to arrest them.
“This will also pose a challenge for us, but we will cross that bridge when we get there.”
Among those stranded on the street, said Mr Bryant, were homeless people with compromised immune systems due to TB and HIV/ Aids, which put them at greater risk.
He said there were also refugees in Albertus Street who need to be accommodated.
“We are urgently looking for spaces and are hoping that national government will work with us to get sites.
“We have identified a few and if we get them approved, it will be enough to accommodate everyone.”
This week the City announced that another site will be set up at Paint City in Bellville to accommodate more homeless people.
Hassan Khan, the CEO of the Haven Night Shelter organisation, said all their shelters were full and that they would not a be able to accommodate more people as this would increase the likelihood of infection.
“Due to the lockdown, more families were willing to take their relatives from the streets, but those spaces were quickly filled up with more people,” he said.
He said homeless people at the shelters were being educated about COVID-19 and personal hygiene.