Mere days after the eyesore was removed at De Beers Park opposite the Somerset West Police Station, a tent village was on the cusp of sprouting up along the Lourens River on the corner of Lourens and Sergeant Street in Somerset West earlier today (Wednesday 8 March).
Enraged residents and business owners of the surrounding community immediately took action, arriving at the scene just as law-enforcement vehicles were seen offloading vagrants who did not waste any time before setting up camp again.
A large group of residents gathered at the site demanded to know who had authorised this instruction, particularly from Ward 84 councillor Norman McFarlane, and insisted the vagrants be moved away.
“This morning we read the ‘eyesore is no more’ in the DistrictMail & Helderberg Gazette, but evidently the problem has simply shifted from De Beers Park to the banks of the Lourens River, which is supposed to be a protected natural environment,” one outraged resident said.
They had gathered in their numbers, showing unity and vowing to prevent squatting alongside the banks, which they had recently successfully cleared after a years-long struggle to remove another group of vagrants that had previously occupied the area.
“We are not trying to be difficult, but they need to find another spot to resolve the issue,” another resident said. “We do not accept that this is only temporary and have gone through a lot of difficulty to have the park restored to its natural state.” The fight was not only about vagrancy but crime, health and safety risks, and nuisances that come along with these.
When DistrictMail & Helderberg Gazette arrived on the scene residents relayed being told that the group of six homeless individuals would be housed there temporarily, for only three days, until an alternative safe space became available. An overseeing Law Enforcement officer admitted the group should never have been offloaded at the site and could not tell the newspaper why they were there in the first place.
“This should never have happened,” reiterated McFarlane, who showed up after receiving calls from furious community members insisting on immediate removal action.
“What will happen now is they will be moved to [an undisclosed] location and within a few days we expect the NPO involved in the relocation process to take over,” he said, referring to Itemba – Circle of Hope, an organisation involved in the relocation effort (“Homeless eyesore no more”, DistrictMail & Helderberg Gazette, 8 March).
McFarlane further said while he understood residents’ frustrations over the matter it was important to note both residents and vagrants had rights that needed to be respected. “This is a very volatile community that has previously taken matters into its own hands,” he said. “However, the task at hand is unenviable, but at least some action is being taken to resolve a rather fraught situation that stirs up so much emotion.”
All six vagrants were later removed and transported with their possessions to another location.
*Watch this space for more updates on this vagrancy issue.