Hefty fines for homeless people for obstructing pavements in Cape Town

2019-07-01 15:49
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Living on the street comes at a cost, as homeless people discovered after they were fined for "obstructing pedestrian traffic on sidewalks" and various other offences in Cape Town.

City of Cape Town officials told News24 on Monday that they had been inundated with numerous complaints from residents from different areas about the contravention of by-laws. Most often cited is the by-law relating to streets, public places and the prevention of noise nuisances.

This by-law prohibits people from erecting a shelter or sleeping or camping overnight in any undesignated area. It also prohibits anyone from "in any way" obstructing the pedestrian traffic on a sidewalk or depositing, packing, unpacking or leaving any goods in a public place.

Law enforcement spokesperson Wayne Dyason said they had focused operations where they dealt with anyone committing these offences.

"In many cases, guys go out and quite a few homeless people are putting up structures, obstructing pavements and lighting fires. That's what we deal with," he said.

"I wouldn't say we are targeting the homeless. We are enforcing provisions of the by-law."

Those who start or keep a fire in a public place can be fined up to R1 500. Obstructing pedestrian traffic on a sidewalk with any object or motor vehicle could attract a fine of R300, as does sleeping in a stationary motor vehicle in a public place.

The by-law - which has been in place since 2007 - states that no one is allowed to live in a motor vehicle for longer than 24 hours. Excluding designated rest areas, one can only sleep in their car in a dire emergency or where someone is the driver of public transport or is guarding the motor vehicle.

Small-scale littering or dumping attracted a fine of up to R500 in terms of the Integrated Waste Management Plan by-law.

Michael "Jitsem" Jackson, 65, was reportedly one of many people fined between R200 and R800 for being in Adderley Street.

READ: Cape Town launches a place for the homeless to sleep

In tears, he told Die Son he couldn't pay his R200 fine and it was not nice to struggle for food and a place to sleep.  

He said apartheid ended a long time ago and wondered why there was no mercy for an old man like himself.

GroundUp reported in 2017 that while the City would continue to enforce its by-laws, it had been trying a new approach of dealing with homeless people who lived on the streets.

Safety and Security mayoral committee member JP Smith was reported as saying that a strictly law enforcement approach had not succeeded and had proven itself a "lost cause".

In the middle of last year, the City launched a Safe Space for the homeless, aimed at addressing the shortage of bed space at shelters and providing access to health services.

Smith told News24 on Monday that the City had to balance the social development approach with that of law enforcement.

He said they had "massively increased" social development offerings over the last year which included access to job opportunities, safe spaces and the winter readiness programme.

"There is no person on the street at the moment who has not been offered accommodation. Every person has been spoken to by a reintegration worker."

Around 85% of people on the street refused assistance, he said, and he had heard that people did not want to be in a shelter and did not like shelters for different reasons.

Smith said they had not taken a narrow enforcement approach. In fact, an approach too much in favour of social development in the last few years was "a dramatic failure because the situation deteriorated and deteriorated", he said.

He said the public issued thousands of complaints every day, demanding that they take action.

"Every single public meeting, I am confronted by residents asking why we can't consistently apply the by-laws."

He said those who were repeatedly fined in public spaces for erecting illegal structures, making fires and littering would at some point appear before a municipal court.

He believed the City could only do so much in bringing these cases to a court's attention.

Safety and Security director Richard Bosman was also approached for comment, which will be added once received.

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