A bold step for the homeless

A homeless man's belongings, all covered with plastics to protect it from the rain is seen in Goodwood. Picture Henk Kruger

A homeless man's belongings, all covered with plastics to protect it from the rain is seen in Goodwood. Picture Henk Kruger

Published Apr 30, 2024


My column will probably leave most people in Cape Town gobsmacked and no doubt lead to rumours of my having either been corrupted and paid by the DA or on the other side of the spectrum have others say I am trying to curry favour with the DA to ensure I have a job post these elections.

Such is the nature of politics.

I, however, have decided to take this proposed strategy at face value, see no ulterior motive behind it and respond to it in a way that will maintain the integrity that my lived experience has brought to my advocacy on homelessness, since the first day at Strandfontein when I saw the City’s cruel and inhumane treatment of those living on the streets.

Not merely persisting, but being escalated to new deplorable heights, at a time when those living on the streets were at their most vulnerable.

A month ago, in an open letter to the mayor, I wrote the following: “Mayor Geordin Hill Lewis, I am appealing to you to please stop painting a picture that the manner in which the City has chosen to address homelessness is working.

“That evictions are working both for the housed and the un-housed, because you know as well as I know that nothing the City is currently doing can be termed successful or sustainable.

“Everything about these interventions is temporary, even what seems like a win, like getting rid of those at the 3 Anchor Bay Tennis Academy and the few that accepted your offer of place at a safe space is temporary.”

The capacity to accommodate every single person currently living on the streets does not exist. This is due to the provincial Department of Social Development having failed dismally on servicing its mandate these past years.

There has been no attempt made to collect data to guide themselves towards an understanding of the issue and what services are required to sustainably address homelessness.

The City and the mayor, out of sheer frustration, tried to grab the bull by the horns but unfortunately forgot the golden rule – you have to have knowledge before you have power – and they too went in with no knowledge of who the homeless are, what their journey has been like, and what will get them to leave the streets.

The biggest failure, however, has been the inability of the City to admit defeat. Constantly telling and trying to convince everyone that everything is under control, that the City is coping, doing more than any other City and its policy on homelessness is so successful that in fact “it should be emulated by other cities”.

Therein lies the problem, because it’s all a big lie. Lies and denial don’t reduce homelessness, they delay the inevitable.

The City for the first time admits to some of the issues and challenges that I and others have been highlighting ad nauseam for the past four years. Addressing and remedying some of the issues is the purpose of this new strategy. And for these admissions, I applaud them.

The City admits that it does not have the capacity to accommodate all those living on the streets.

This is the very first time the City refers to some of the challenges faced by those that agree to going to shelters.

The fact that it is the provincial department that receives the funding from national government and makes the decisions on how that funding will be utilised, without any alignment to the services the City has on offer, is problematic.

And this proposed strategy by the City will remain just that, a strategy, if all spheres of government and all role-players are unable or unwilling to come together and strategise together.

One of the matters I have constantly raised with the City and highlighted to the mayor has been that they will never succeed if there is no reliable data on homelessness to base our interventions on.

I am glad to see that they now realise the significance of creating and developing a reliable data base. It is also the first time that the City addresses the issue of its own by-laws and the discriminatory nature of these towards those living on the streets.

There are a number of pertinent issues that need to be addressed but don’t feature prominently in the strategy and there are some omissions and some gaping holes that need to be highlighted, and I will without a doubt be making recommendations to that end. This is, however, a bold step and deserves a round of applause.

Next week: the strategy itself.

* Carlos Mesquita is an activist for the homeless and a researcher working in the Western Cape Legislature for the GOOD Party.

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

Cape Argus

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