City accommodates street dwellers

2018-07-10 06:00
Martin Lelani thanks Mayco member for safety, security and social development, JP Smith, for the Safe Space pilot project.PHOTO: Nicole mcCain

Martin Lelani thanks Mayco member for safety, security and social development, JP Smith, for the Safe Space pilot project.PHOTO: Nicole mcCain

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For Hester Diedericks and Martin Lelani, a new safe space for street people offers the couple a chance to stay together.

Living on the streets, Diedericks explains that she and Lelani “slaap saam” and would be separated if they were to access the services of a shelter.

The Safe Space, launched by the City of Cape Town on Tuesday 3 July, offers street people an option that is neither a traditional shelter, nor sleeping on the streets.

The pilot project site, situated underneath the Culemborg Bridge on the Foreshore, is a transitional shelter facility where up to 230 street people will be able to spend the night once it is fully operational. They will also be able to access ablution facilities, water and storage space for their belongings.

“The Safe Space concept has been something that has been talked about in the administration for many years, but the planning started in earnest in the last financial year. We hope to achieve a number of things through this initiative. On the one hand, we want to take pressure off existing shelters and reduce the number of bylaw infringements that come with people sleeping or erecting structures in the open, but we also want to develop relationships with our clients over a period of time that will hopefully lead to reintegration for some,” says Mayco member for safety, security and social services, JP Smith.

Street people seeking to use the facility will be assigned a storage locker, a sleeping pallet, sleeping bag and blanket as well as a wellness pack containing hygiene essentials. The City is partnering with external service providers to bring their specialist services, soup kitchens and other catering services to provide meals.

The Safe Space opened on Friday 29 June and admitted a small group to test the access and placement systems. Thus far, 11 street people have been accommodated including two persons with disabilities. It is expected that the facility will be fully operational by mid-July.

Getting the Safe Space up and running has come with its own set of challenges. The site, which is zoned as a road reserve, can only house temporary structures. In addition, neighbouring land owners objected to the application for a land use departure (“Neighbour balks at ‘safe space’”, People’s Post, 7 November 2017).

“There is no blueprint or best practice model for the provision of safe spaces for street people. We are literally learning as we go along, but I do believe it is better to try and adjust as we go along than not to attempt this at all. This pilot will inform the best way forward for the allocation and management of safe spaces for street people within the city, with the aim of assisting street people to remain off the street and to be reintegrated back into society,” adds Smith.

However, explained Smith at the launch, the Safe Space is not a traditional shelter. The City’s Reintegration Unit has spent many hours speaking to street people to assess why so many are not willing to access the services offered by a traditional shelter, and have tried to address those concerns, he said.

One such concern, as highlighted by Diedericks, is that the Safe Space will allow family units to stay together. “I’m happy here. [A shelter can’t take a family] and that’s why I love this.”

Another, explained Lelani, is the access to City services on site.

The facility will also offer access to a range of social and medical services, with assessments and referrals done on site. Short-term work opportunities will also be made available through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).

“I’m glad for this place. I’m glad [that I might be able to] get a job,” said Lelani.

Pat Eddy, Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) manager of social development, believes the Safe Space will enable the team of CCID fieldworkers an opportunity to offer their clients an alternative to sleeping on the streets of the Central City.

“This is a project that we have been waiting a very long time for… It is our greatest hope that this project will work towards restoring the dignity of street people by offering them the basic services that so many of the rest of us take for granted – access to toilets, showers, lockers, a safe place to sleep at night, among so many other things. It will also hopefully develop into a welcoming space for people living on the streets where they will also be able to help determine the rules for themselves and what support services will best assist them,” she says.

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