Safe Spaces not an effective solution to homelessness

Tents seen at the Culemborg Safe Space for Cape Town's homeless people during the pandemic. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Tents seen at the Culemborg Safe Space for Cape Town's homeless people during the pandemic. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Nov 25, 2023


Despite my criticism and scathing remarks about the Safe Spaces (for very valid reasons, and please don’t misunderstand my position in this post; my opinion of the Safe Spaces in their current format, under their current management, with the services they offer, and their lack of effectiveness in reducing the number of people on our streets remains unchanged), I do privately go around mentioning them.

Just as I did again this weekend (visiting homeless people in both the CBD and the Atlantic Seaboard, checking their IDs, and trying to convince them of the importance of voting in the election) while trying to convince especially those on chronic medication, those getting on in years, and the many women trapped in abusive relationships just to have a roof over their head, to please make sure they go into the Green Point Safe Space when it eventually opens.

I even promise to keep them updated and to go and get them wherever they are when it eventually opens.

And no, I am not being a hypocrite. The reason I do this for these groups of individuals is because they are the seasoned and well-informed people who know that the system can no longer be fooled or destroyed by the system.

They, like me, have been there, done that, and worn the T-shirt enough times not to be fazed by anything that happens there. And, more importantly, it provides them with the one thing that at their age and in their condition should be at the top of their list of priorities: to be in a space where they will be surrounded by people, should they suddenly fall ill or be need a bed to lie on if they need to get some real rest – of which, despite it not being optimal in terms of hygiene, at least there is a semblance.

I am not ignorant. And I truly want what is best for those living on the streets. Shelters were never intended to become an alternative to old-age homes. They are not equipped or trained to provide the required services, but for lack of a better option, I say go for it! The same applies to those who are chronically ill and those who are being abused.

It still concerns me that even these individuals are put out during the day for 12 hours to roam around, instead of having the option of staying in.

But be that as it may, should one suddenly get ill, at least it will probably be discovered faster in a shelter, and that could save a life.

But that doesn’t mean we get complacent and just accept the situation as at least it’s helping a few. Because it is here that we are allowing our emotions to get the better of us, and we find ourselves compromising our position, which in turn will come back to haunt us when the day comes.

The mayor will stand proudly, and pompously declare that they have just succeeded in helping 300 people, and how much it’s impacted on getting people off the streets, when in fact these people I am trying to convince to go there should never have been on the streets or in temporary/emergency shelters.

They should be in long-term, specialised and serviced care facilities.

The City refuses to heed the advice of experienced counsel and the suggestions we are making on how to make their Safe Spaces effective in starting to positively affect reducing the number of people on the streets.

This can only be achieved by ensuring that Safe Spaces become real transitional spaces where chronically homeless individuals are given a living space where they can exercise some privacy and be given agency over the life choices they need to make.

This cannot be achieved in a temporary/emergency shelter environment where adults are treated like naughty children who are sent to a bunk bed in a prison-like setting in a dormitory shared by 50 or 100 individuals.

Until they make these changes at their Safe Spaces, and the necessary and required services are on offer, and upliftment and empowerment are taking place in order for these individuals to work on their best version of themselves that they have chosen for the rest of their lives, Safe Spaces will continue to be the free option for accommodation for the elderly, disabled, mentally challenged Sassa grant recipients who should never have been there in the first place!

And our streets will continue to be littered with unserviced, uncontrolled, unsafe, unsightly, and unhygienic encampments.

* Carlos Mesquita.

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

Cape Argus

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