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Vagrants on agenda

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Vagrants on agenda

by Tammy Petersen
07 May 2008
Peoples Post
Peoples Post

The growing population of homeless people on the streets of Rondebosch has resulted in an urgent meeting being proposed to thrash out ways of reducing their number.

Campground Road and the Liesbeeck River have been identified as problem areas to be addressed in the meeting, which is set to take place soon.

Protea Subcouncil chairperson, Owen Kinahan, says the number of street people in Rondebosch has been "growing steadily" over the past few years.

"I suspect that most of them come from the countryside with hopes of finding employment within the city, as jobs are quite scarce in the areas they are from. When they fail to find employment, they resort to living under bridges and on the streets of more affluent areas."

He says the high number of vagrants harbours various negative health implications and safety problems.

"Their set-up lacks toilets and other facilities, which leads to their defecating and washing themselves in public.

"The bylaws of the city state that this is illegal."

He says the Department of Social Development should make the homelessness issue a priority.

"These people have to be relocated back home if it is possible, or be moved to shelters. But the department keeps giving me the same old story that they are too short of manpower to carry this out."

He suggests that the city approach the department for extra funding, as "this is a provincial problem".

"They cause many anti-social issues and although it is difficult to make the connection, they may also have a hand in petty crimes in the area."

Ward councillor Ian Iversen says people who feed the homeless are merely "keeping the problem alive".

"By doing that, they are not solving the problem but giving them reason to return. This problem is not limited to Rondebosch; it is an issue in the whole of Cape Town and CBD areas in which they can beg."

He emphasises that the provincial government "has to stand up and accept responsibility for the problem".

But Phumzile Simelela, spokesperson of the Department of Social Development, says homelessness and vagrancy are the responsibility of the city and the Department of Housing, "who should make sure that these people are taken care of".

Colin Arendse, secretary of the Homeless People's Crisis Committee, says the suggested action smacks of an "anti-poor strategy".

"There seems to be a concerted effort across the city to get rid of the homeless but it is every individual's right to freedom of movement. According to the Constitution, they don't need permission to move from one specific area to another."

The claim that the homeless may be involved in petty theft is merely based on suspicion as there are no statistics which reveal that they play a significant role in crime, he asserts.

He adds that calls for people not to feed vagrants are inhumane. "They may not look good or smell good, but they should definitely still be accepted by society because they are still human and they deserve respect."

Charles Cooper, media liaison officer for the City of Cape Town, says vagrancy is an ongoing problem that is continuously addressed by the Vagrancy Control Unit, which forms part of the Metro Police.

"This unit takes action against these people by moving them to shelters while also looking at the social side, such as the reason behind their being homeless. The main problem is these people don't want to be moved to shelters. They refuse to abide by the rules and regulations of the institution."

He says the city has various projects and campaigns to tackle the issue but inevitably the provincial government has to step in and finance these initiatives.

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