Vagrants step over the line

2015-05-05 06:00
Residents are concerned that vagrants are taking shelter on railway property between False Bay and Muizenberg train stations.  


Residents are concerned that vagrants are taking shelter on railway property between False Bay and Muizenberg train stations. PHOTO: MONIQUE DUVAL

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Evidence that vagrants are taking shelter along the railway line between False Bay and Muizenberg train stations has sparked concern.

Chevone Petersen, manager of the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID), ­explains vagrancy is an ongoing issue.

She explains but due the organisation’s homeless cleaning project, it is well acquainted with those who live in Muizenberg.

“But there have been some new faces and people we do not know moving into the area. They are predominantly in the park, along the railway line and at the vlei,” she says.

In February, Petersen wrote a letter to Metrorail outlining MID’s concerns, including an increase in crime.

She explains there are a number of ­vagrants living on the railway line near Milner and Church roads under the overgrowth of scrubs and trees on the railway line.

“We’ve seen an increase in attempted break-ins in the buildings adjacent to this area. This is a big concern. The vagrants are living on [land owned by] the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), creating an ideal opportunity for a quick exit when a crime is committed. There is suspicion of illegal drug-dealing taking place in this vicinity.”

MID chairperson Tony Smith says while they received no response, the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement officers carried out an operation on Thursday 2 April where several people and structures were removed.

Ward councillor Dave D’Alton confirms the operation and agrees the area around the railway is a problem. “The City does not have jurisdiction to ­remove people from railway lines, but it is a problem and there have been complaints,” he says.

During the operation, two shelters were demolished and removed from the vlei and two men and one woman were removed.

In Muizenberg Park, three shelters were demolished and six people removed. Six people were removed from Atlantic Road.

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott says vagrancy remains a thorny and complex social issue.

“All over the city, under highway bridges and in trees (near our offices), the homeless seek shelter. We concede that the issue of ­vagrancy is raised regularly and we have indicated to the MID that our resources to deal with it remains constrained,” she says.

Scott further says Metrorail’s protection services regularly remove vagrants from railway property.

“Railway fencing primarily demarcates railway boundaries; a fence would not deter wilful entry onto the rail reserve by persons with intent. Prasa is aware of structures erected from time to time on various pieces of land and is concerned about this as informal settlers are repeatedly cleared from these sites in collaboration with the City,” she explains.

Scott says vacant properties owned by Prasa have been documented and efforts are made to either lease or develop these, depending on each property’s zoning and land use.

D’Alton says homelessness is a problem throughout the city and until a long-term solution is found the only recourse he has is to apply City bylaws.

“While one has to be sympathetic to their plight most have chosen to live on the streets as they earn money from handouts. Some are criminals and we have had an attack in Muizenberg Park by these people and also outside George Whitfield College. Muizenberg Park, which is a public open space, cannot be used by the public because of this problem,” he adds

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