Unit curbs homeless from loitering outside Castle

A mobile unit deployed, at the Castle, to deal with homelessness.

Homeless people seem to have stopped camping on the grassy patch at the Castle of Good Hope since the City of Cape Town relocated its mobile law enforcement unit to the problem area.

The mobile unit, moved from Culemborg, has been deployed to deal with problems that the Castle management has been facing since about 80 street people erected structures on the grassy patch. These include car break-ins and pickpocketing and drug usage in the precinct.

The Castle of Good Hope CEO, Calvyn Gilfellan, said the homeless people had set up camp along the wall of the Castle on the Strand Street side. “Some would pitch tents, but for the most the homeless would use whatever building material they could find, to build their temporary shelters.

“The biggest problems were the lack of ablution (facilities), washing, cooking and refuse removal facilities; hence a very untidy and unhygienic look at the foot of South Africa’s oldest building and national heritage site.”

He said there were also signs that criminals would use the homeless people staying there as a smokescreen to engage in crime such as drug peddling and prostitution.

However, he said, since the mobile unit was moved there, the homeless people in that section had moved on – but merely further up the road.

The City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement spokesperson, Wayne Dyason, said they had decided to station the caravan at the site as it was considered a crime hot spot. He said two to four law enforcement officers were on duty at the site 24-hours a day.

“The parade staff also assist when required,” he added, referring to the 18 dedicated law enforcement officers deployed to the Grand Parade.

He said while the City’s displaced persons unit conducted regular operations in the central business district (CBD) to prevent loitering and help to facilitate social assistance for street people, they often found that as soon as the unit left a particular location, the homeless people returned.

He said the enforcement staff worked closely with the social development and the early childhood development department’s reintegration unit which recently helped reunite two street people with their families.

“The reintegration unit offers social services to street people, including referrals to shelters and help with securing identity documents and social grants, but also assists those who want to be reunified with their families or return to their places of origin.

“The unit also conducts the City’s Give Responsibly campaigns to raise public awareness about the importance of giving to shelters and non-governmental organisations working with street people, instead of direct giving, which promotes chronic homelessness, increases the number of street children, enables substance abuse, and increases aggressive begging.”

Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, said the relocation of the law enforcement mobile unit to the Castle came from discussions between SAPS and the City.

“We’ve received many complaints and reports about this space, especially now that the Castle has been hosting more public events.”

He said when police focused on clamping down on crime on the Grand Parade (“Grand Parade security plan”, the CapeTowner, September 7), police had noticed a shift in crime towards the Castle and the railway line, “and the police couldn’t let that happen.”

Captain October said police conducted operations throughout the year at crime hot spots.

“We encourage people to keep reporting crime and to keep coming forward with complaints.

“People need to highlight this issue in every way possible, because people get robbed there all the time. Criminals hide between the homeless and drug usage is rife.”

He said, however, that police were still concerned about aggressive begging and break-ins at cars parked on the side of the road next to the Castle.

He urged motorists not to leave items in their cars, and to check that their cars were locked before they walked away from them.

Mr Gilfellan said the Castle management still battled with incidents of petty crime around that area, but it was being monitored by law enforcement agencies.

“We must remember that soldiers are not allowed to be involved in policing matters outside of the perimeters of the Castle.”

He said they were following two routes to secure funding to erect a low-impact, heritage compatible fence, around the rest of the Castle. “The one is done by us and involves approaching fence-makers for possible sponsorships. The second one is run by our mother department, the Defence Department, and could take a bit longer. We will settle for a process that would take us the quickest to solve this matter in a humane, responsible and effective manner.”