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Bad for business

Business owners in Vasco Boulevard have expressed concern at the growing number of vagrants who are squatting on an open field directly opposite their properties.

Cindy Lategan, a resident of Goodwood and an office manager at one of the businesses, says the vagrancy issue has been going on for months.

“It’s getting worse. First it started with two families, then all of a sudden there are more families. Our theft rate has escalated, but we can’t point the finger at them because we have no proof that it’s the vagrants. We’ve got major issues with the fighting and the language they use. We have seen cars pull up and fetch things from them, but once again we can’t say it’s anything suspicious because we have no proof. Then of course there’s no ablution facility here so they’re washing themselves in the open and using the grass as their toilet.”

“We’re a medical practice and we see a lot of patients here. Some are in wheelchairs or walk with crutches so getting out of the car takes a bit longer. They choose not to park on the opposite side of the road where the vagrants camp as they often get harassed. We’ve had cases where the vagrants intimidate our patients. On numerous occasions we’ve seen how council comes and removes them, but three days later they are back, dumping and defecating in the area,” says a business owner who requested anonymity.

The City of Cape Town’s acting executive director of safety and security, Wayne Le Roux says it is not illegal to be homeless, and street people are entitled to freedom of movement, just like anyone else. However, they are expected to abide by the laws of the country and the City’s by-laws.

“Business owners can contact the City’s law enforcement department in the event that they witness by-law transgressions. Any criminal acts need to be reported to the police for investigation.

“The law enforcement department conducts regular patrols in identified hot spot areas. Staff act on by-law contraventions and will attend to any illegally erected structures, fires in public places and anti-social behaviour

They also issue fines in cases of continued non-compliance, but it is a challenge tracking down persons who have no fixed address to appear in court, and so it is ultimately a vicious cycle.

“The City is in the unenviable position of trying to balance the rights of street people with the rights of the general population,” says Le Roux.

He adds that no person shall in a public place:

  • use abusive or threatening language;
  • fight or act in a riotous or physically threatening manner;
  • urinate or defecate, except in a toilet;
  • bath or wash himself or herself, except in a bath or shower; or as part of a cultural initiation ceremony in an area where such a ceremony is taking place;
  • perform any sexual act;
  • appear in the nude or expose his or her genitalia, except where designated by the City as areas where nudity is permitted, provided that this shall not apply to children;
  • consume any liquor or drugs;
  • be drunk or be under the influence of drugs;
  • solicit or importune any person for the purpose of prostitution or immorality;
  • engage in gambling;
  • start or keep a fire, except an official or person duly authorised to do so or acting in terms of the law or in an area designated by the City to do so; or
  • sleep overnight or camp overnight or erect any shelter, unless in an area designated for this purpose by, or with the written consent of the City, provided that this shall not apply to cultural initiation ceremonies or informal settlements.

Mayco member for community services, Zahid Badroodien, asked that residents and businesses not give hand-outs to individuals, and to channel donations or good deeds via their local shelter or the City’s “Give Dignity” campaign instead.

“The only solution to the challenges presented by street people to local communities and businesses is through reintegration of people living on the streets, and mitigating the risk factors that result in them ending up on the streets in the first place. The City’s social development and early childhood development department has a street people policy in place that guides our efforts in this regard. We have teams of fieldworkers who are part of our Street People unit who engage with clients on a daily basis, including ongoing return visits. The unit is mandated to facilitate access to shelters, medical and other social services, and even temporary work opportunities through the Expanded Public Works Programme once an individual has been placed in a shelter.

“It’s also nearly two years since the City piloted its first Safe Space, following input from street people who wanted assistance, but without the rigours of a formal shelter. We are in the process of ascertaining the feasibility of a second Safe Space, and of course the City lends support to NGOs and shelters working with street people,” says Badroodien.

“Despite our best intentions, it is a reality that many people simply refuse any form of assistance. They cannot be forced to accept help either, since it is not illegal to be homeless. The reasons are varied, but indiscriminate hand-outs and the cycle of dependence that this creates does play a role. Street people tend to congregate in areas where economic opportunities exist or where they have easy access to hand-outs,” Badroodien adds.

  • For criminal or by-law related transgressions, residents can contact the City’s emergency communication centre on 021 480 7700 from a cell phone or 107 from a landline.

     

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