City’s millions not enough to prevent homelessness
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Despite an annual R7,4-million budget, city officials are struggling to tackle homelessness, which visibly appears to be on the rise in central Cape Town.
Over the last few weeks, this journalist walked the city’s streets during the day and evenings to find out more.
Homeless people have been spotted getting water from the moat around the Castle of Good Hope, washing in a fountain on St George’s Mall, sleeping in shop fronts on and around Adderley Street and elsewhere, as well as persistently begging passersby for cash.
City of Cape Town officials, night shelter staff and homeless people were interviewed to help this newspaper understand the situation better.
Ashley Davids from Phillipi is in his 20s and has been homeless since “about 11 years old when my parents died”. He said while he did not prefer living on the street, he felt he “can’t do anything” about his situation.
“I’m smoking heroine and that is preventing me from going to the shelter. I am addicted and I need help,” said Davids.
“I don’t always have money to go to a shelter. I’m always hungry. When I get money I do heroine. I need support. I can’t come right on my own.”
Another homeless man in his 20s, who did want to be named, said he started living on the streets after he divorced his wife and “became depressed”.
“I started using heroine to deal with my depression. I know I need to go to a detox centre and get counseling so I can go back to my family,” he said.
Hassan Khan, chief executive offer of The Haven Night Shelter, which has 15 branches across the city, described these two homeless men as “believing they have no choices in life”.
“Some homeless people believe they are on their own and are so alienated from their family and community. These are the people we want to get to,” said Khan.
The Haven is one of the shelters the City of Cape Town supports financially to assist homeless people.
Councillor Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development, said apart from its R7,4-million annual budget to support shelters, it has made other funds available.
“The City also has a winter assistance programme, where it made R280,000 in aid available to shelters to accommodate an increase in the number of people seeking shelter from the elements,” she said.
This aid includes “food, blankets and toiletries” while the department also “funds bed spaces at shelters”.
The City also runs a Give Responsibly campaign, which discourages locals from giving homeless people cash but to rather donate funds towards this campaign aimed at getting people get off the street.
Khan said the Haven “encourages people not to give money to homeless people”. “Real help to a homeless person is to get them to a home or back with their families. When you give money to a homeless person you are not helping. They grow roots on the street if you give them money,” said Khan.
He said the Haven offers homeless people at least five nights to “stay at the shelter at no charge”.
“We begin a journey to get the person off the street. After the five days, we expect them to pay us R10 a day for all our services which includes meals, sleeping place, social work services, contact with family, assistance with trying to find work and resources like an ID book and so forth,” said Khan.
“If a person does not have money we offer them a job of up to two hours a day. We pay them R20 for two hours of work, like peeling vegetables. We help them with their difficulties and want them to think about getting home.”
But getting home is not always an option. Etienne Hechter, who used to be a truck driver in Gauteng, ended up in Cape Town after spending a few months on the streets of Kimberley.
Hechter stays at the Haven and said he was unable to return to his mother because their relationship “does not exist anymore”.
He said living at the shelter was not for all homeless people because “some don’t want to adapt to the rules”.
“At this shelter, you have to wake up at 5:30am. We get up early because breakfast is served. Some people like to sleep late which they can’t do here,” said Hechter.
“There’s a certain time when the lights go off at night. We need to get our rest.
Alcohol and drugs is not allowed. Some people still come in under the influence and that has a negative impact. That can influence other people.
“There can be no fighting or swearing at this shelter. You must pay to stay here. They encourage us to look for work.”
Khan said various factors drove people to the streets, including mental illness, poverty and substance abuse.
He added: “It’s not a legitimate choice to live under a bridge on the freeway. It’s illegal. The city has municipal bylaws regulating living on the street. There’s also a law against aggressive begging, where people persist. The person being harassed can lay a charge against the beggar.
“There is also outright breaking of the law when people trespass properties.”
Little said there was a “general migration of street people towards the CBD areas, whether it be Cape Town, Bellville, Durbanville, or Somerset West”.
“Street people are most likely attracted to these areas because they are business hubs and there are substantial numbers of people who walk past on foot or drive by in their vehicles,” she said.
“There is also the perception that CBDs are economically superior areas and thus there is always an opportunity for hand-outs.”
Little said the City wanted to decrease homelessness because there was a “concern of criminal elements among those living on the streets, as well as anti-social behavior”.
“Our department has a number of programmes in place to assist street people and does its best to provide them with the opportunity and means to get off the streets,” she said.
“These offers are, however, voluntary and no person can be compelled to accept assistance and move off the streets.”