Homelessness no day at the beach

2017-02-14 06:01

Muizenberg residents have lambasted the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID) and the City of Cape Town for what they think is a failure in dealing with homelessness.

In a letter and social media posts circulated by community organisations, residents have taken MID and the City to task after a street person was seen exposing himself and street people were reported to be engaging in sexual activity. Complaints of street people blocking residents’ entrances were also raised.

The letter asked why MID was not able to move these street people and alleged the City had a “regulation preventing the harassment of street people”. It claimed the MID’s spending on security showed “little value for money” in addressing homelessness.

The letter also accused the City of regarding street people higher than ratepayers.

“The City is criticised from all quarters on an ongoing basis – some complaining that we are too harsh in dealing with antisocial behaviour and others complaining that we do too little. It’s a matter of perception and, frankly, everyone is entitled to their opinion,” responds JP Smith, Mayco member for safety and security and social services.

Smith adds there is no policy “preventing the harassment of street people”.

“We do, however, expect residents to treat each other with respect, courtesy and dignity – irrespective of their circumstances. The City is in the unenviable position of trying to balance the rights of street people with the rights of the general population. Homelessness is a global phenomenon that very few countries have managed to adequately address,” he says.

“Street people are entitled to freedom of movement. Also, it is not illegal to be homeless. However, like everyone else, street people are expected to abide by the laws of the country and the bylaws of the City.

“The law enforcement department conducts regular patrols in identified hotspot areas. Staff act on bylaw contraventions and will attend to any illegally erected structures, fires in public places and antisocial behaviour. That being said, due to shortcomings in national legislation, law enforcement as it relates to street people is ineffective in that we cannot issue fines or arrest them to appear in court.”

Five complaints in two monthsThe City’s social development department has only received five complaints in Muizenberg since December as most complaints go directly to the MID, Smith explains. The department has an agreement with the MID to help in cases when requested.

Since 2013, the MID has helped about 40 homeless people to get into shelters or be reunited with their families, says MID chairperson Marion Wagner. MID also provides social work services at the Muizenberg clinic every Thursday morning.

“We have prevented many others from becoming homeless residents of Muizenberg through referral to shelters as soon as they arrived in the area,” she says.

However, there are various complexities in addressing homelessness, she says.

The MID cannot enforce bylaw infringements, Wagner explains.

In addition, bed space in shelters is “extremely limited”, she says.

“One can also not force an individual to move off the streets nor infringe their constitutional rights,” she adds.

Some of the homeless people are car guards who no longer go home at night but sleep in the area due to the increased economic opportunities on the beachfront, Wagner points out.

“The MID has also been active in encouraging community members to play an active role in being part of the solution by logging complaints to put pressure on the responsible departments and to advocate responsible giving where we encourage everyone to please give a hand-up and not a hand-out.”

V Contact the City’s toll-free number on 0800 872 201 to ask how to help street people or to complaint about street people.


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