The current legal framework encourages homelessness

‘Housing is healthcare, which means our health-care system is in a perpetual state of disrepair’. Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

‘Housing is healthcare, which means our health-care system is in a perpetual state of disrepair’. Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 2, 2024


In a GroundUp report on January 26, Qaqamba Falithenjwa wrote: “Piles of suitcases, mattresses and items of furniture were strewn across the narrow Commercial Street in Cape Town on Wednesday and Thursday. Hundreds were evicted from three buildings in the city centre.”

Cape Town’s homeless shelters and safe spaces are overloaded to the highest capacity. Yet, we keep evicting people, be they in the unsightly, unsafe, unmanaged, unhygienic encampments littered all over Cape Town or in ”dangerous” and captured buildings.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of either the unmanaged encampments or unmanaged captured buildings. I have on many occasions said they should be banned.

But before either banning or evictions became the norm, the City managers should have studied the situation, ensured they had their facts straight, and come up with sensible, manageable, dignified and sustainable alternatives.

Reference to foreigners is always being made when there is an eviction or we speak about homelessness, and although there is a growing number of those living on the streets who are foreigners, they by no means make up the greatest numbers.

If only our problem was just a broken immigration system, and not also a broken housing system, system, health-care system, criminal justice system, education system, elder care system, childcare system, labour, and employment system ...

We also have a broken foster care system which adds to the number of those experiencing homelessness annually.

One in 15 youths between the ages of 18 and 25 are subject to the harrowing state of homelessness each year; 20% of youths ageing out of foster care will be among them.

Youths ageing out of the foster care system have often also experienced one or more of the following negative situations: Loss of parents or guardians, multiple episodes of abuse and neglect, juvenile incarceration, no social or familial support system, academic obstacles like disrupted or limited education, social stigmas and more.

The same can be said of our corrections system, which adds another 25% of youths entering homelessness annually.

Housing is healthcare, which means our health-care system is in a perpetual state of disrepair.

Homelessness creates a vicious cycle around just about everything it touches, including healthcare. People who are enduring homelessness are less likely to have access to:

Transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, potentially life-saving screenings and prescription medications, routine check-ups for physical and mental health, and much more.

As a result, they are more likely to die of commonplace, treatable diseases. To that end, members of the homeless population statistically die three decades sooner than their housed peers.

Furthermore, the lack of access to primary healthcare forces people enduring homelessness to spend significantly more time in emergency rooms. This, in turn, puts a strain on our entire health-care system, the very system that’s been failing them in the first place.

As you can see, the burden currently placed on our homeless shelter system and, to a broader extent, the entire homeless services sector, is not the result of any one flawed system, be that immigration or otherwise.

Rather, it is glaring evidence that the entire social foundation is cracked from the floor to the ceiling. More people are entering into homelessness as a result.

Some in this City’s administration, including our mayor, say the system isn’t broken at all. It is working precisely as it was designed.

Suppose that is, indeed, the case, then it is working for them because the true causes of homelessness are not only being ignored but also, more shockingly, they are being supported by the current legislation.

This is ultimately the issue I have with this City that says it cares for us in their approach to homelessness.

* 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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