Activists slam City of Cape Town's proposed amendments to homeless people by-laws

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Homeless in District Six begins to erect makeshift tents
Homeless in District Six begins to erect makeshift tents
Marvin Charles, News24
  • Activists say the proposed amendments to city by-laws will criminalise homelessness.
  • Mayor Dan Plato said in April that the City responded to 1 107 complaints from residents related to people living on the street.
  • Ndifuna Ukwazi recently announced its intention to take the City to court to challenge the constitutionality of two of the City’s municipal by-laws. 

Homeless and housing activists have lambasted the City of Cape Town over its proposed amendments to by-laws relating to Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances.

Activists warned the proposed amendments would criminalise homelessness and increase the powers of law enforcement officials, making the arrest of the homeless much easier. 

The proposed amendments included the removal of any obstruction, arrest of a person, who commits an offence in terms of the by-law, and the power to arrest someone may only be exercised in respect of a contravention of section 2(3)(m) if the person has refused to accept an offer of alternative shelter.

The proposed amendments are open for public comment until the end of June.

Ndifuna Ukwazi attorney Jonty Cogger said the amendments were similar to the by-laws the City sought to introduce last year, which Ndifuna Ukwazi vehemently objected against.

Cogger said:

The City of Cape Town is now again determined to increase its power to remove street people from all public places, arrest them for living on the streets, and confiscate personal materials used for shelter and livelihood.

He said the power to arrest someone without shelter directly and explicitly criminalised homelessness.

"This is a significant increase of power compared to the current street by-law, which only empowers law enforcement to impose compliance notices and issue fines."

READ | 'It's gone from worse to unacceptable': Cape Town residents raise concerns as homeless numbers grow

Ndifuna Ukwazi announced its intention to take the City to court to challenge the constitutionality and discriminatory impact of two of its municipal by-laws - the by-law relating to Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances (2007) and the Integrated Waste Management By-law (2009).

Eleven homeless people have joined Ndifuna Ukwzi's application.

In April alone, the City said it responded to 1 107 complaints from residents related to people living on the street.

Safety and Security Portfolio Committee chairperson Mzwakhe Nqavashe said he was aware of the criticism.

"We have been accused of using our streets and public spaces by law to prevent people from taking shelter. The clause in the by-law is actually to ensure that open spaces are meant to be public, to be available for all to use and not to be reserved by people. The same legislation applies in other municipalities as well." 

Carin Rhoode Gelderbloem, one of the applicants in the constitutional challenge against the City, said the amendments would make their lives even worse.

"It means that we won't even be able to walk down the street without the threat of being arrested. There simply aren't enough shelter beds in Cape Town for someone to comply with this by-law.

"What does the City of Cape Town expect will happen when all street people have a criminal record or are in jail? How will this resolve the complexities of homelessness in Cape Town? This by-law amendment has been introduced to serve the rich."

ALSO READ | More than 14 000 people estimated to be living on the streets of Cape Town

U-turn Homeless Ministries CEO Jonathan Hopkins said the proposed changes to the by-laws would not be a deterrence nor discourage people from living on the street.

"This completely misunderstands the causes of homelessness."

He added that such law enforcement powers would be a costly exercise that would makes the long-term situation worse as it would further erode trust between people experiencing homelessness and those in authority.

"This will make our rehabilitation work even harder and will further exacerbate levels of chronic homelessness in our city. Homelessness is a very visible, but a very solvable problem. We need to put our collective effort, expertise and resources behind solutions that work - rather than things that simply maintain the status quo or even make the situation worse."

But the City maintained other municipalities had even stricter by-laws and prohibitions.

“Why are other municipalities not being challenged like this in any way?" Nqavashe asked.

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