Deadline for comment on City of Cape Town’s new homeless strategy

Public comment closes Wednesday

| By and

Public comment on the City of Cape Town’s new “strategy to reduce rough sleeping” will close on Wednesday. Archive photo: James Stent

The City of Cape Town’s new “Strategy to Reduce Rough Sleeping” will replace its current “Street People Policy” if approved. The opportunity for public comment on the strategy closes on Wednesday.

In 2020, the City’s social development department initiated a review of its 2013 “Street People Policy”. The nearly 50-page strategy document is the outcome of this.

The strategy document defines rough sleeping as sleeping on streets, in vehicles, in open spaces or in buildings not meant for living in, and in shelters. It has a detailed analysis of the challenges of rough sleeping and the problems with the state’s response to it. It’s less concrete on how to fix homelessness, but it does have some important proposals.

“The Census study conducted in 2022 found that there were 6,630 rough sleepers on the city’s streets. Previously, the Western Cape Government estimated that were approximately 4,682 street people in the city, 700 of which lived in the Central Business District.”

However the document points out that data on rough sleeping in the city is inadequate.

There are many reasons why people sleep rough, the document emphasises. For example, there are people who are chronic rough sleepers, people who episodically sleep rough and also people who sleep rough temporarily before getting back on their feet. There are also people born on the street and who live rough their whole lives.

The document says that since 2013, Covid and worsened economic conditions have caused “considerable contextual changes to the rough sleeping environment in Cape Town”.

People have been “left socially vulnerable” as “lockdowns lead to job, food and housing insecurity, and a further proliferation of homelessness and rough sleeping” within the city.

The new strategy emphasises that rough sleeping is not a crime and that public spaces are open to all. It repeatedly emphasises that the City’s central tenet is that it is a “city of hope for all”.

“As an overarching approach, the City will employ a public health approach to overcoming rough sleeping and assisting rough sleepers.”

“There needs to be a balance between upholding and enforcing by-laws, but also reviewing by-laws and policy instruments that make it difficult for rough sleepers to engage in the typical activities that most people carry out on a daily basis, or in activities that help keep them safe, which may undermine the dignity of rough sleepers. Not finding this balance can exacerbate the problem and create further social exclusion.”

But, the document says, the City will ensure “that policies, legislation and by-laws are applied equally to all residents”

The document describes the main response for people sleeping rough: shelters, those run by civic organisations and the three “safe spaces” run by the City.

Two of the safe spaces run by the City are in Culemborg near the city centre, and one is in Paint City, Bellville. Over 1,600 people were assisted by these three facilities in the 2022/23 financial year, at a cost of R55-million. People can stay in these facilities for up to six months “provided they agree to partake in the social services and developmental programmes on offer”.

The document also notes the role of the government’s public works programme. “While providing a ‘leg-up’, the temporary nature of the employment often undermines the ability of rough sleepers to escape poverty traps, or amass skills in high demand from the labour market. A need exists to create platforms for skilled or relatively well-educated rough sleepers so that they might be supported through developmental programs.”

The document states: “An overarching national framework to fully address homelessness, including rough sleeping and its effects, has never existed in South Africa. This constitutes a large policy deficit, which has led to incoherent homelessness policy and strategy at all government levels.”

Even within the City, the document emphasises, different departments — law enforcement is singled out — do not have a co-ordinated approach to dealing with rough sleeping, and that there is poor data on homelessness in the city, and hence a lack of defined strategic direction about reducing rough sleeping. As an example of poor data, the document points out that the prevalence of disabilities among homeless people in the city is unknown.

The document states: “The City’s Street People Programme Unit (SPPU) has provided a diverse ‘basket of services’ to rough sleepers such as the City’s Winter Readiness Programme, Referral Services, and assisting with relocation, amongst others. … Over the years, a wide range of collaborations have also been formed, leveraging the competencies of various civil society organisations and public sector entities. Nevertheless, despite these efforts, the pressures that result in homelessness have overtaken the capacity of the City’s interventions.”

The document makes some suggestions on the way forward in Cape Town:

  • Two forums are to be established, one for City departments and one for “non-City actors” to meet and ensure proper communication on rough sleeping.
  • The City will identify land and facilities available for additional safe spaces.
  • Communication on rough sleeping will be improved, for example by putting more information on the City’s website about services offered both by the state and non-government organisations.
  • Data collection is to be improved, including maintaining a database of people sleeping rough. “In time, the City will ensure that its responses to existent rough sleeping are data-led, thereby ensuring that responses are tactical and resource conscious.”
TOPICS:  Homeless Housing Local government

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

Firstly. I am a humbled citizen here in the Northern Suburbs and would like to congratulate The City of Cape Town for all the hard work and immaculate effort to be a world-class city.

There is a famous saying: "Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime."

I have no understanding of all the issues people on the street face. Why they are there, or why some still want to remain there. Many of us "lucky ones" can only stand and watch from the sideline. Some want to get involved but don't know how to, and some simply turn their eyes away.

I have no idea what programmes are available to get people off the streets. May I share some ideas?

Some of these ideas are being successfully implemented in Africa and other countries to not only generate income, but alleviate poverty and even provide solutions to pollution. Some ideas are to elevate food shortage and still hungry tummies. It all depends on who gets their hands on these ideas and what they will do with them, be it for self enrichment or public betterment.

Recycling can be a key source of income. Some materials could be used to produce paving bricks. Black soldier flies can be bred for chicken feed and the chickens, in turn, can be sold to support the project. There can also be more vegetable gardens to feed those on the street, which could be run and worked by those on the street themselves.

I hope my letter leaves you motivated.

Dear Editor

I fully agree that there needs to be a strategy to assist the homeless and people sleeping rough.

At present, small pockets of homeless people are setting up camps in public spaces, such as parks, especially in the City Bowl in Cape Town.

My observation is that there is no regular monitoring by the City, unless one has a complaint.

For example, at the McKenzie Street park, people have been attaching structures to the playground equipment, and three fires have taken place during the past year. The anti-social behaviour impacts all of us.

Living opposite this is no fun when you have spent your whole working life paying off your home, only to spend retirement years listening to foul language and fighting and verbal abuse every day. Their fires are fuelled with any and every source, including plastics. This impacts my asthma, even with the windows closed. People walking in the area are mugged on a regular basis.

Now, of course they deserve help and have nowhere else to go. This just highlights the issues. And of course the politicians aren't living with the problems opposite their homes.

Much more needs to be done. I'd like to see much more social intervention by the City, and also visible policing. At present nobody else can use the park, and there are many children in this complex. It is just not safe.

This is the sad reality.

Dear Editor

A suggestion regarding our homeless citizens maybe to yes provide them with a roof over their head, food in their stomachs in exchange for helping us keep our city neat and clean.

A cost of them helping our Municipalities with keeping Cape Town, Western Cape clean. Similar to a working person going out daily to work and earn a living our homeless could assist with cleaning. Year in and year out we battle floods in and around Cape Town and by now we already know to avoid these areas in winter, so why not allow our homeless to assist.

Our Municipal workers may continue their jobs and our homeless workers will help with that extra touch (cleaning up dumped goods in places not regularly checked, much more regular maintenance of pipes and valves, our schools, sports fields and parks. In summer and spring seasons it could be our beaches and public swimming pools.

Growing up and going with my parents to Cape Town (CBD) I was amazed at how beautifully clean the CBD was. Now we have rats roaming the streets, even in Sea Point parking lots.

Dear Editor

I have some ideas:

To use land where a new way of sustainability can happen.
Putting seeds in the ground and working the land to feed themselves (with help and guidance).
Supply trailer showers and toilets so they can get clean and find work themselves.
Implement programmes to first help them with nurturing and food, and then how to grow to eat and live healthy from the food harvested. And then supply if there is overflow.

This can be multiplied on any farm or sustainable land throughout the country so the project can grow.

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