Where must homeless go?

2015-09-15 06:00
A homeless man pulling around a trolley with items he collected in Grassy Park one the communities where the street people survey was also conducted. 

astrid februarie

A homeless man pulling around a trolley with items he collected in Grassy Park one the communities where the street people survey was also conducted. PHOTO: astrid februarie

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Barbs were thrown at a public meeting where City of Cape Town social development and early childhood development officials addressed residents on the City’s street people programme and related initiatives.

The meeting took place at the Alphen Centre in Constantia about two weeks ago. Residents from the community and surrounds attended to hear more about the City’s recent headcount of homeless people.

Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development, said at the meeting that homelessness was a “sensitive issue” and that one of the most common things she got asked was to “come and take them away”.

Little said: “Everyone has rights and that includes homeless people. I cannot just move people when someone requests me to do so. There are mechanisms in place and we have to follow these.”

Micheal Solomons, who lives on the streets in Constantia, said that he grew up in the community and had nowhere to go.

“I have been here for years and this is where I was born and grew up. I try to make a living by parking cars,” he said.

Solomons repeatedly asked: “Where must I go?”

In response someone in the audience shouted: “But you do not pay tax.”

Solomons replied: “When I buy bread and milk and something to eat for my family I too pay tax.”

Throughout the meeting residents and stakeholders from various community organisations were given the opportunity to raise their concerns and provide suggestions for helping homeless people and getting them reintegrated.

A few participants wanted to know what the long-term solutions were, while one man said that “if you want to know more about homeless people you need to speak to them with respect and not be aggressive in an effort to find out how they can be assisted”.

A survey by the City of Cape Town has found that about 7383 homeless people are living in shelters and on the streets across the city (“City counts homeless”, 11 August, People’s Post).

The survey included communities such as Claremont, Woodstock, Wynberg, the city centre, foreshore, Bellville, Goodwood, Strandfontein, Parow, Sea Point, Portlands, Table View, Tafelsig, Mitchell’s Plain, Kuils­river, Lansdowne, Lentegeur, Muizenberg, Vredehoek, Oranjezicht, Retreat and Milnerton. In each of these areas mentioned about 50 or more homeless people were found.

The City’s social development and early childhood development directorate revealed these findings as part of a research project that set out to determine the number of street people in Cape Town, but also to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of homelessness.

Researcher for the City Lynn Hendricks said at the presentation of the report: “The state of homelessness as we currently face it is different to what we observed just a few years ago.”

She explained that homelessness was an ever-growing problem. To understand the phenomenon it was important to look at different aspects of the problem, including characteristics of street people, pathways to homelessness, the homeless culture, exit strategies for homelessness and interventions regarding homelessness.

According to Little, the City has made strides in recent years in its efforts to address the complex problem.

“It is not something that is unique to Cape Town, but I would like to think that we have charted a good course,” she said.

Little said the City had three objectives.

The first was to help as many people as possible who wanted to get off the streets. The second was preventative in nature – to stop others from migrating to the streets. The third objective was to sensitise the public to give responsibly.

“We cannot force people to accept our offers of assistance and there are those who prefer to remain on the streets because it saves them from taking responsibility for their lives, but we are determined to help each and every person who wants to help themselves,” Little said.

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