The headline “Homeless Horrors” on the front page of “People’s Post” on 4th April 2017 was gratuitously sensational or at best insensitive on an article about a petition submitted to the City by the Muizenberg Community Safety Initiative.
We feel that the responses of Mayoral Committee Member Eddie Andrews as reported in the article do not address the specific issues raised by the petition from the Muizenberg Community. His replies are generalised and have the tone of excerpts from a standard public relations press release. The problems faced by Muizenberg are peculiar in that the community is relatively small, but it has to deal with a large number of tourists from across the Peninsula and overseas. Inevitably perhaps, this attracts a disproportionate number of unemployed and indigent people hoping to benefit from the constant flow of tourists, which in turn leads to the social issues mentioned in the petition: an increase in the numbers of homeless people, many of whom occupy Council property; the lack of a management plan for the homeless; the resulting public hygiene issues and the potential for criminals to exploit the presence of homeless people within the community. The fact that the normally easy-going, laid-back residents of Muizenberg have resorted to a petition should be evidence enough that these issues are becoming serious and need to be addressed.
Mr. Andrews’ statement that “The social development and early childhood development department’s street people unit has an agreement with the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID), and MID deals with all issues regarding the local homeless” is simply inaccurate. The MID does not have an agreement in place with the City Department of Social Development, but is governed by Special Ratings Area Policy and By-law. MID is a facilitator but has neither the budget nor human resources, much less the Authority to provide or replace services that are the responsibility of the City. For example, MID cannot start a homeless shelter in Muizenberg, but the City has had a few opportunities to do so and didn’t. The MID can only offer front-line social work and counselling services, but still depends on the City to provide the main service to street people i.e. shelter placement, reintegration and reunification.
The Muizenberg Improvement District, like other Improvement Districts in the city, is a volunteer civic organisation funded by an additional levy on ratepayers in a relatively small area. MID has exactly one full-time employee, an Administrator, and a very limited budget.
Mr. Andrews says: “The City has a dedicated reintegration unit which offers social services to street people, including referral to shelters, access to expanded public works programmes job opportunities, assistance with securing IDs and social grants, and social assistance for reunification with their family,” and adds that the City cannot force homeless people to accept the services offered to them.
This response rather begs the question that the homeless people are aware of the services open to them, and takes no account of the psychological state of these Citizens – and let no one forget that a homeless person is still a Citizen of South Africa. A homeless person can only access the Expanded Public Works Program (EPWP) if they are in possession of an Identity Document. The City may have a system in place where they work with other Non Profit Organisations who have the financial resources to fund ID documents and to handle the process – MID has neither the financial nor human resources to do this on its own. We are asking that the City authorities apply themselves to putting a system in place which serves the peculiar needs of Muizenberg.
In other areas, people who live on the street actually pack up their belongings during the day and only return again at night. Ideally, this should be the protocol in the interim until such time that the City can find a long term solution to the dire service needs of people on the streets of Muizenberg. This interim solution raises the question of a secure storage facility for the homeless.
Mr. Andrews makes much of the enforcement of By-laws. While By-law enforcement should be seen to be taking place, we believe that additional measures should form part of the solution, because attempting to apply the Law to people who have no realistic way to comply with it leads nowhere.
Other cities around the world also wrestle with rising numbers of homeless people – none claimed to have solved the problem, but innovative solutions to some of the issues arising from homelessness have been found: London has a portaloo deployment programme, while Athens and San Francisco have mobile ablution facilities for their homeless.
It is unrealistic to expect the homeless issue in Muizenberg to disappear entirely – it is probably inevitable that a tourist destination will continue to draw the unemployed and the homeless. An ongoing Management solution therefore has a greater chance of relative success than sporadic “raids” and harassment which simply displaces people from place to place in turn. MID and MCSI alone cannot resolve the issues without the constructive engagement of City of Cape Town specialists. Working together we could explore practical solutions that are replicable, easy to implement and maintain, and are sustainable in the long-term. This is all we ask.