Cape Town is moving people off the streets. We asked homeless residents what they thought
“We are also part of the community,” says Nathan Ludick, who lives in Virginia Avenue Park
The City of Cape Town announced this week that the Western Cape High Court has granted its application for eviction notices to be served at “various unlawful occupations in the Central Business District”. The City said it expects a final eviction order to be granted in April.
The sites include encampments on Buitengracht Street, FW De Klerk Boulevard, Foregate Square, Helen Suzman Boulevard, Strand Street, Virginia Avenue and Mill Street Bridge among other places.
“They must come and sit with us and listen to our stories. Then they will know the reasons why we are here … Some of us want to make an honest living … We need that little bit of help,” says Abdu-Rahmaan Davids, who lives in a makeshift shelter in Virginia Avenue Park in Vredehoek, and says has been living in the area for nine years.
Davids is 33. He says he left his home in Kensington because it is ruled by gangs.
“Some of us go and scratch in bins. It’s like you take your own dignity and throw it to one side. It’s not easy to stay on the street,” he said.
“No one is protecting us, but we are trying to make an honest living. We are trying to keep this area clean, but no one sees that. They only want you to move away from here.”
“We are also part of the community. Now, they are separating us from the community like we are fugitives,” says Nathan Ludick. He has also been living at the site for nine years. He is 41 and guards cars to survive.
He says they had filled out forms for officials from the social development department, but they never get any feedback.
“They don’t come back with the results to say, ‘Ok, we found a place to stay in Cape Town’. They are only showing us to the shelter,” says Ludick.
He says he has tried to find a formal job. “I’m young, I can still work. What can I do at the shelter? … I want to work so I can earn something.”
Roslyn van Schalkwyk, who lives in a tent outside the Good Hope Castle ground on the Foreshore, says, “I’d never ask someone to come and stay here. This is the worst.”
She says the shelters are not a solution. “After a few months, they say you must go out. Where are you going to go? You’re going to end up back here.”
If the City was able to offer them jobs, then people would consider relocating, she says.
Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said in a statement on Monday that the City had done “its level best” to offer care and help people get off the streets.
“Where this has been persistently refused, we must now ask the courts for the order we are seeking. No person has the right to reserve a public space as exclusively theirs, while indefinitely refusing all offers of shelter and social assistance.
“Our city’s public places serve important social and community purposes, and must be open and available for all. Illegal occupations of City open spaces impact the safety of traffic and pedestrians, as well as local businesses critical to growing the economy.”
He said R77-million had been set aside for safe spaces and social programmes this financial year.
A safe space facility with more than 300 beds is in the works in Green Point and 120 shelter beds have already been added to the City’s Culemborg safe space.
Housing advocacy group Ndifuna Ukwazi says that it “notes” the City’s claim that social assistance had been offered to people occupying public spaces.
Daniellé Louw, an attorney for Ndifuna Ukwazi, said, “The prevailing attitude by the City towards homelessness has been to address complaints from residents in brick houses rather than addressing those in need themselves”.
“The demand for shelter at the moment far outstrips the supply. Whilst we welcome the City and Province investing in further safe spaces, it is unclear where people are expected to stay. It is also very likely that without a developmental plan in place, the street-based people will return back to the street in due course.”
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