“We are not animals, we are not criminals, we are simply homeless.”
These are the words from a group of 25 homeless people living in Muizenberg Park and surrounds who spent their exercise time on Saturday May 16, walking with placards, calling for a shelter in Muizenberg.
“We aren’t interested in politics, taking sides or blaming anyone for us being homeless. We are willing to take responsibility for our own lives, but we can’t do this on our own,” a man among them said.
There are 10 women in the group. One of them said she had been sober two months and wanted to stay that way.
Another man said he just wanted to become employable and independent again. Another said: “I was born here, this is my community.”
They were shy about giving their names, but said they wanted to stay together and not be split up into shelters with strangers – whom they feared.
“I’m tired of being homeless. This can’t be normal,” said one of the men.
Phinius Sebatsane is a missionary and has been helping the group for three years. He also works with U-Turn, an organisation that gives support to the homeless.
Mr Sebatsane supported the homeless in their walk through Muizenberg. The homeless walked with placards during exercise time, and maintained physical distancing.
“It will take more than one organisation to fix this. We will need everyone’s help, from the police to businesses, churches, residents,” he said.
Muizenberg Improvement District (MID) chairman, Peter Corbett, accused the City of Cape Town of dumping the group on the hillside without shelter, water, ablutions or food.
“They are making an environmental hazard up there on the hill – a catastrophe to themselves and to the whole community,” he said, adding that the City had promised two weeks ago to put up a shelter for the group by May 20.
A limited amount of capital from MID could add to the City budget for improvements to a local shelter, and various NGOs were interested in helping, he said. “However, it seems that the City is reneging or dawdling on the issue.”
The City had quoted a figure of R10 million for a shelter for Muizenberg which he felt was unnecessarily excessive.
Muizenberg residents had been calling for a homeless safe space in Muizenberg for the past 25 years, he said.
Brendon Bosworth, of the Muizenberg Community Action Network group, said they had been giving the homeless and needy food during lockdown.
“We are in support of any solution that brings all affected parties together in an amicable way.”
U-Turn’s Rowen Ravera said the organisation had seen many graduates from its programme leave the streets, maintain sobriety and employment.
“We know there’s a better alternative. We reduce suffering by investing in rehabilitation and skills development to create a pathway out of homelessness.”
Mayoral committee member for community services and health, Dr Zahid Badroodien, said it was mischievous for the MID to suggest the City wasn’t helping homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The City had told the MID on Tuesday May 5 that the homeless in the park had opted to leave the Strandfontein camp, set up as emergency shelter for the homeless and where they had had access to showers, three meals a day, psycho-social programmes, as well as daily medical services.
“Those who left the facility refused further assistance from the City and this was clearly explained to the MID who have not appreciated this information and are now using the homeless to score points in their community,” he said.
“The MID is incorrect to allege that a safe space would have been erected by May 20 as this deadline was for the closure of the Strandfontein facility and not the implementation of a safe space, which is a longer term solution.”
Some homeless remain at the Strandfontein camp while arrangements are made at shelters across the city to accommodate them.
“Under lockdown Level 4, the City cannot place an individual in a shelter without their consent,” said Mr Badroodien
Mayor Dan Plato said the City had been clear from the outset that the Strandfontein site would be temporary. It was being closed in stages so the homeless could move to smaller shelters and rehabilitation programmes.