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'Everything is temporary when it comes to the City of Cape Town’s solutions for homelessness'

Carlos Mesquita writes that everything is temporary when it comes to the City’s solutions for homelessness. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Carlos Mesquita writes that everything is temporary when it comes to the City’s solutions for homelessness. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Oct 27, 2021

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We have had a hectic week in the homeless sector. A shocker was the City Safe Spaces eviction of all residents that were there for longer than six months. We are talking of close to 300 people.

This is ridiculous. The City's new by-laws say you cannot live on the streets but the City throws people out on the streets.

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The safe spaces have, after we launched a campaign against the evictions, reconsidered their position and stopped evictions. But for how long? Till after the elections, I presume?

In a response to our press release on the evictions, the City's mayco member for community services and health, Zahid Badroodien, said the City had the right to end their hospitality at the safe spaces as everyone knows, going in, that safe spaces offer transitional accommodation.

But why evict people? Is it the accepted norm at all of Cape Town’s shelters and safe spaces that six months tops and then you move on?

Everything is temporary when it comes to the City’s solutions for homelessness. Unfortunately, there is even more to it than meets the eye.

The City desperately needs to show that the claim against them, that they do not have sufficient bed spaces to accommodate those who would accept such an offer, is false and so they are opening up beds to ensure activists can't make that claim against them.

They were hoping that they would be able to do that with the evictions going unnoticed.

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Not only does this reveal their lies about spaces available in their shelters, but if the SAPS should be called in, no eviction should be considered.

Those who are problematic or show signs of being disruptive because of potential mental challenges should be referred to places that specialise in such care.

During their stay at safe spaces, homeless people should have access to two social workers (they have one) who should constantly be assessing these clients and doing follow-ups on progress being made with PDPs and as to whether their progress warrants they be moved into a first-phase shelter, second-phase shelter, independent living space, a facility for the aged or frail care, a facility that caters for those with physical disabilities, a facility which caters for individuals with mental challenges and a facility that caters for LGBTQIA+ clients, or those who identify as criminals and have committed crimes while they should be in jail.

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But this doesn’t happen.

None of it happens, because they know at the first-phase level, there is no space and at the second-phase level, there is no space.

These levels are filled with Sassa grantees who happily pay for cheaper accommodation and the payment is gladly accepted by the service provider (which gives preference to these clients).

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The service provider now gets funded thrice for the same service:

1. Services they can easily declare are for the vulnerable and get funding per bed per night for five years from the province.

2. While also being paid a second time for the same bed by the client via their Sassa card.

3. Some then decide to be greedy and ask the public for R75 a week per bed.

They evict people to go back onto the streets.

These same people get threatened with fines and jail for being on the street.

Eventually, these same people refuse the offers of shelter space because they know soon it's time to be evicted again. So why bother?

The current model employed by the City of Cape Town to house the homeless is the reason we experience chronic homelessness.

It perpetuates it.

People lose hope. Countries that threw out this model and started adopting more permanent-oriented rather than temporary-oriented homing solutions with agency and services attached are the examples we should follow.

Our system is not bent, it’s completely broken.

Even those of us already employing these newer and more effective models are being threatened because we have to constantly compromise to assist in situations which the City created and can then not address or support (for example, Van Riebeeck Park).

Should the residents of Vredehoek not have come together and have decided to get involved, the entire programme would no longer exist and the guys would be shacked up higher on the mountain.

And so I am glad to report that Observatory has become the first suburb, that I know of, to start engaging with the homeless people in their area to co-design a process for talks between all stakeholders to be had to come up with solutions that will benefit the homed, re-homed and homeless people.

* Carlos Mesquita and a handful of others formed HAC (the Homeless Action Committee) that lobbies for the rights of the homeless. He also manages Our House in Oranjezicht, which is powered by the Community Chest. He can be reached at [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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