A caring city for all – more safe

2019-07-16 06:00

There has been much chatter and misinformation about the “fining” of homeless people during the past week. We encourage the public not to be misinformed. The City of Cape Town is one of the few administrations that has invested in the plight of our street people through a host of interventions in the last decade.

These efforts are underpinned by the City’s Street People policy, which recognises the complexities that accompany homelessness, and attempts to address them. It is important to note that the by-law that everyone has been up in arms about was promulgated in 2007, it is not new. The by-law does not single out homeless people but it is applicable to all members of the public.

Everyone is expected to be law-abiding in public spaces and we receive complaints if people defecating, verbally or physically abusing each other or other citizens, destroy public property or sleep on or next to people’s properties among others. In the past year, Law Enforcement officers have responded to more than 15 926 complaints from the public.

The City does its utmost to help all people because we care about the safety of our residents. Sadly, the current false narrative takes place during a time when we are about to celebrate the first anniversary of a project of the City to assist street people, called the Safe Space. For several years, we have been focusing strongly on social development, as the myriad interventions attest to.

We offer several programmes through the Safe Space, which include life skills, CV writing, social services and Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) employment. Through our mission to be a caring city, we offer these services because street people deserve better. They deserve to sleep indoors and receive warm meals. They deserve to have the opportunity to access opportunities. We want to equip them with skills and help them access opportunities to work.

We go out of our way to assist vulnerable people living on the streets. The Social Development and Early Childhood Development Department has teams of field workers who spend their days reaching out to street people, offering assistance with access to social services, including temporary shelter, identity documents (IDs), social grants and temporary employment opportunities. Hundreds of street people use our facilities every day and for them, it is a safe haven. It is disheartening when someone in need of this help declines any form of assistance when our intention is to make things easier and more comfortable.

We are currently looking to identify an additional safe space facility to expand this much-needed support structure for vulnerable street people.

Cape Town, like the rest of the country, is bound by laws. These laws apply to every single person. The same by-laws are on the books in other large metros such as Nelson Mandela Bay, the City of Johannesburg and Mangaung.

It is not illegal for anyone to be homeless, but our concern is the increase in aggressive begging within our central business districts and economic hubs. Our concern is that we see our street people sleeping on sidewalks and putting their own safety at risk, and using shop fronts and public spaces as ablution facilities.

While some take up our offers of assistance, the truth is that there are many street people who simply refuse the help we offer. The group who decline any form of assistance are intented to stay on the streets and are often involved in crimes such as drug dealing (or are drug-addicted), robbery (pickpocketing), and other forms of illegal activity. It is unfair to blame the City for enforcing its by-laws.

We will continue engaging street people and working with NGOs so that we can improve their daily circumstances.

Dan Plato, Mayor of Cape Town

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