Green Point “Tent City”: Homeless camp’s days are numbered

Relocation options unsatisfactory for many of the occupiers

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People have been occupying this site in Green Point for more than five years. It sprung up during the Covid pandemic when many people lost their jobs.

  • The homeless community at a site called “tent city” in Cape Town is facing imminent eviction.
  • Execution of the court-ordered eviction was delayed due to police resources being stretched, according to the City.
  • Some of the occupiers have relocated voluntarily, but a number of people say the relocation alternatives being offered to them are untenable.

For weeks the homeless community in the tent camp near the tennis courts in Green Point have been holding their breath, awaiting eviction. At one time there were about a hundred people living here. But on Monday the number was much less.

An eviction order was handed down in December by the High Court and occupiers were given until 31 January to leave the site. This was then extended.

“The sheriff is directed to evict the remaining unlawful occupants after 7 February, who have failed to voluntarily vacate the site. The eviction will take place under the court’s direction, via the sheriff and SAPS, with City social development officials, law enforcement, playing supportive roles,” the City said in a media release.

Then last week, ward 54 councillor Nicola Jowell (DA) said that police had notified the City of a postponement because resources were deployed to Parliament for the State of the Nation Address and the budget speech.

Jowell reiterated that the City is “fully prepared to support the Sheriff” in “executing the court-ordered eviction”.

The camp was established during the Covid lockdown in 2020, when many people found themselves out of work. The area was fenced in 2022.

When we visited the site on 10 February, we found people sorting out recycling materials, while others were sweeping in front of their tents. There are no facilities, such as toilets or water taps, at the site.

The City of Cape Town started relocating people from Tent City on Valentine’s Day.

“Voluntary” relocation

On Valentine’s Day, we witnessed the relatively orderly voluntary relocation of a number of occupiers. Officials were knocking down shelters. However, there was some confusion about where people were being moved.

“Some occupants expressed an interest in erecting an emergency housing kit at a site in Delft, but the site is not being made public for fear of invasion,” said City of Cape Town spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo.

“Besides dignified transitional shelter, emergency housing kits and relocation have been offered to those who want to relocate to space with family or friends, or to private land with the permission of the landowner.”

“The number is fluid, given that the City is currently relocating many of the occupants who have taken up the offers,” said Tyhalibongo.

Shaun Hibbert with his plant collection.

Shaun Hibbert, 52, who became homeless after losing his job during the Covid pandemic, opted to move to the City’s Safe Space.

“We’ve been here just over four years,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy at all. We just had to adapt. Here you get all kinds of people. But we all got used to each other and it’s going to be sad because we are leaving and all going our own ways. We actually became a family.”

Hibbert was particularly sad to leave behind his garden. “It’s heartbreaking for me to leave it behind because nobody’s going to water it. They’re just going to die.”

Occupiers who said they had initially been offered a relocation site in Delft, said they had been told they will now be relocated to Lansdowne. They were a lot happier about this as Lansdowne is closer to town and considered safer.

But when we asked the City, Tyhalibongo said there was never a Lansdowne offer.

Lourensa Manuel with her dog Selah. Manuel returned to the site because Selah could not be accommodated at the City’s Safe Space.

Lourensa Manuel, 59, was one of those hoping to move to Lansdowne. On Thursday she boarded a truck with her belongings and her dog, believing, she said, they were on their way to Lansdowne. But the truck took her to the City Safe Space site instead.

Her husband stays at Safe Space One, but she is not allowed to have her dog at the site. She has now returned to the tent camp.

“They told us when they first started this thing that we could either go to Delft or the shelter … What are we going to do in Delft? There are no work opportunities … Transport is too expensive and there’s nothing to do,” she said.

Soraya Petersen, 64, has been living on the streets most of her life.

Soraya Petersen, 64, said she has been on the streets since she was a child. She grew up in Netreg and would have been prepared to relocate to Lansdowne, but not to Delft.

“Who’s going to feed us, because that side where they want to put us there’s absolutely nothing,” she said.

“I’ve been to all the shelters and I refuse. You stay in the shelter for six months. When the six months is finished, you are supposed to go out because they need the space. Where must the person go, back on the street?”

“We are all human beings. We’ve got a reason why we are on the street. It doesn’t mean you want to be on the street. Circumstances take you to the streets,” she said.

Fundi Hlobo said the City needs to find a better solution than what it is currently offering them.

Staying put

A number of people say they will not move. Some of them were upset by having been moved to the Strandfontein camp during the Covid lockdown. The South African Human Rights Commission was scathing about the health and safety conditions at the camp.

Fundi Hlobo said that in November 2023, City officials told them their removal was “non-negotiable”.

“They [police and the City] came to ambush us here one morning at 7am, to tell us that they had applied for this interdict,” she said.

“Just deal with the human being who doesn’t have shelter, then you can come with a better solution,” said Hlobo.

“These people have no plan as to how to eradicate this matter [homelessness].”

Due process

Stephen Underwood, communications officer at U-Turn, an organisation that works with homeless people, said it seemed as if the City had followed due process. But people living on the street carry a lot of trauma.

“How do you evict someone who doesn’t have a place? You can knock down their tent, you can knock down the structure, but where are they going to go?” he said.

He said U-Turn advocated for more developmental solutions and for more homeless support centres.

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said the City had gone to great lengths to “extend every offer of care to individuals unlawfully occupying public places”.

“Offers of shelter still stand at all times during this process. It is vital that public places must be open and available for all. No person has the right to reserve a public space as exclusively theirs, while indefinitely refusing all offers of shelter and social assistance,” said Hill-Lewis.

“Accepting social assistance to get off the streets is the best choice for dignity, health, and well-being,” he said.

Jowell confirmed people had been offered relocation to Delft or to one of the City-run Safe Spaces.

She said Sea Point’s formal residents were concerned about “health and safety” and the living conditions at the site.

“Not to say that everybody there is involved in crime,” said Jowell, but there had been “criminal incidents”.

“It would be wonderful to have a facility where people could come with their pets. Perhaps some of the private shelters have that. But in terms of the City’s Safe Spaces, there are no facilities for animals. I understand the bond [with a pet] and there are other options available.”

The City stated it is expanding its Safe Space Programme from the 480 beds at the two spaces it currently operates at Culemborg, to include a 300-bed Safe Space in Green Point set to open in the coming months.

TOPICS:  Economy Housing

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