As the number of people living in open public spaces in the southern suburbs continues to grow, the Harfield Village Association (HVA) has been busy exploring ways to address the challenge.
James Fernie, chair of the HVA, says they are extremely concerned about the explosion in homeless people living on the streets in Harfield Village and surrounding areas, as well as the state of dereliction of Imam Haron Road. He claims that the HVA has raised this issue with the City of Cape Town over many years.
“The situation has definitely deteriorated since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. The HVA is committed to approaching this challenge with compassion and empathy for all stakeholders. We are busy consulting with stakeholders to formulate a strategy,” Fernie says.
Jenni Rowe, who lives and has a business in Harfield Village, says when she arrived in 1995, there were always homeless people around the village, but they have increased over the years and especially over lockdown.
“It is worrying that there are no regular clean-ups of human excrement and litter. This poses a huge health problem. Also, gang members hide out in homeless areas. There should be regular police checks to see who are there. Crime is an issue,” Rowe says.
U-turn, a non-government organisation (NGO) focused on the rehabilitation of the homeless, confirms lockdown has led to more people living on the streets.
Rowen Ravera-Bauer, strategic partnership development manager at U-turn, says during the lockdown, over three million people lost their jobs.
“At U-turn, in 2019 we have seen a significant increase in demand for our services and we know of at least 20 people in the area who are newly homeless simply because they lost their jobs and were unable to pay rent (in other words, they are not struggling with addiction but just need work),” Ravera-Bauer says.
With U-turn based in Harfield Village, Fernie says the HVA sees the relationship with them as being critical to solving the issues. Together with U-turn and non-profit organisation Uthando South Africa, the HVA recently kicked off an initiative through which the homeless can “earn” vouchers redeemable at U-turn centres for food and clothes.
The homeless will receive vouchers, purchased from U-turn by HVA and Uthando South Africa, in exchange for cleaning up litter and rubbish on the streets, especially in Imam Haron Road.
“This will all happen under the supervision of U-turn staff to ensure work is done properly,” Fernie explains.
The HVA is also playing for a cleaner once a week in Harfield Village.
Ravera-Bauer says HVA and many other resident associations have known and supported U-turn on and off for many years.
“However, the urgency of the situation around Covid-19 and a growing consciousness in the community about the desperate need for a meaningful solution means that this partnership has become more defined recently and more purpose-driven.”
Recognising there is no quick fix, U-turn has formed a coalition to end homelessness.
The NGO is actively encouraging everyone in the sector (government, shelters, feeding schemes) to incorporate rehabilitation programmes to support their short-term relief.
Those who are part of the coalition, like MES, U-turn and Streetscape, have committed to a rehabilitation model instead of short-term welfare.
According to Ravera-Bauer, the partnership with HVA mainly focuses on communications – working together to educate and communicate with residents about responsible giving and to get collective collaboration. “In addition to the professionals in the sector, it’s essential that members of the public, like the residents in Harfield Village, recognise they play a role. We are working with HVA to raise awareness about responsible giving,” she says, adding that responsible giving means putting people in need in touch with support and rehabilitation services.
Ravera-Bauer explains that when someone approaches you on the street in need and you give them money, you potentially fuel their addiction. Giving cans of food is not much better, she says, because you simply make them dependent on you.
“Instead, give them a voucher, like a U-turn voucher, where they can access food and clothing but, more importantly, access support and rehabilitation,” she says.
Rowe also believes a collective effort is required.
“Communities have stepped up but they can only do so much. We need buy-in from the areas where the homeless are living – for example, the police station – and the homeless themselves,” she says.
Rowe says all the affected entities need to take care of their own spaces and not wait for someone else to clean it up.
“Graham, my husband, has spoken to the police on numerous occasions to please help and keep their verges clean. But there is no desire to clean. This is a huge issue. We need to instil pride in the places where we work and live. This needs a whole community to buy in and help,” she says.