Pavement fines 'not new' - City of Cape Town defends its efforts to assist homeless

2019-07-02 18:06
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As people come to terms with the inevitable effects that a public places by-law has on the homeless, including being fined, the City of Cape Town has defended its efforts to help the vulnerable get off the streets.

This follows a story on Monday in which it emerged that homeless people were receiving fines from law enforcement officials for obstructing pavements and other offences.

The public largely reacted with outrage on social media and the ANC in the province demanded an end to what it deemed a "war against the homeless".

City officials explained at the time that they were not targeting the homeless but enforcing the by-laws following numerous complaints from residents.

Most often cited is contraventions of the 2007 by-law relating to streets, public places and the prevention of noise nuisances.

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

Those who start or keep a fire in a public place can be fined up to R1 500. Obstructing pedestrian traffic on a pavement 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 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 a car in a dire emergency or where someone is the driver of public transportation or guarding the motor vehicle.

Small-scale littering or dumping attracts a fine of up to R500 in terms of the integrated waste management plan by-law.

'Dynamics have changed'

In a joint statement on Tuesday, mayoral committee members JP Smith and Zahid Badroodien said the City had invested in the plight of its street people through a host of interventions in the last decade.

These included the departments of social development and early childhood development working with the City's displaced persons unit as well as the opening of the first "safe space" in 2018 that currently houses 211 street people who are receiving support designed to help them get off the streets.

The departments also run an annual winter readiness programme, which made R699 000 available in 2019 to provide aid in the form of blankets, mattresses, non-perishable food and toiletries to NGOs.

"For several years, we have been focusing strongly on social development, as the myriad interventions attest to.

"However, the dynamics on our streets have changed, for a number of reasons, including an increase in the number of parolees being released by the correctional services department, as well as an increase in the number of foreign nationals on the streets, due to a non-functioning immigration service," the statement said.

"These changing dynamics require more consistent action, which is why we are trying to find a better balance between by-law enforcement and our social development basket of services.

"It is not illegal to be homeless, and street people are entitled to freedom of movement as outlined in the Bill of Rights. However, like everyone else, street people are expected to abide by the laws of the country and by-laws of the City - particularly the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances."

199 fines issued from Jan to March

From January to March this year, the displaced persons unit received 3 051 complaints from the public about "anti-social behaviour by street people", the City said.

During the same period, the unit issued 199 fines for contraventions of the by-laws.

The City added that the 2007 by-laws were not new.

"When it was drafted, we compared it with legislation in other municipalities and purposefully made our by-laws more humane and more considerate than those in other major metropolitan areas.

"The issuing of fines in relation to this specific by-law is not new either. Furthermore, the fines are set by the Department of Justice, and not the City."

The City said it was 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."

On Monday, Smith told News24 "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," he asserted.

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

Since June last year, 616 people have made use of the safe space. Many of them have been reunited with their family, relocated to their place of origin and were assisted in securing identity documents.

Click here to find out more about which shelters assist the homeless across the Western Cape.

Read more on:    city of cape town  |  homeless
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