What’s the plan for the homeless this winter?

Johann Kikillus, director Soteria Ministries

A few months ago, I called a public meeting in Fish Hoek to discuss the growing homeless issue that is happening across the far south.

All of us at the meeting agreed that it was a problem that needed urgent intervention. I have been observing this issue closely over the past few months and wish to suggest that we are in a worse place than we were six months ago.

Firstly, there are more people that have moved onto Fish Hoek’s streets. Unfortunately several of these have been unsavoury characters resulting in some of the elderly homeless people being robbed of their few worldly possessions.

Secondly, the two organisations attempting to address this challenge are hopelessly unfunded and under supported. Winter is now upon us and a plan needs to be put in place to at least accommodate the elderly and vulnerable before temperatures plummet and the rains set in.

In February I wrote letters to Premier Alan Winde, Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez and mayor Dan Plato asking what assistance can be expected from the provincial and local government. I have not received any replies from their office. Please could the ward councillors of Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town give us feedback as to what practical measures are being put in place to at least assist the most vulnerable. I consider elderly men and women to fall into the most vulnerable category, as well as those with mental health challenges.

Also could the Fish Hoek Community Police Forum and law enforcement give feedback on what is being done to address the criminal element. I see it everyday, and, as I mentioned at the talk, FIsh Hoek has a large population of soft targets which makes it unsafe for many to shop on the Main Road and walk on Recreation Road.

It has also been over five years since these issues were first raised, and we have had to watch Fish Hoek Main Road spiral downwards to the point where many businesses have had to close down. I believe that with political will, as well as support from churches and residents, Fish Hoek can once again be restored to the beautiful and safe place that it once was.

• Ward councillor Aimee Kuhl responds: The community will be glad to hear that the NGO U-Turn is opening one of their service centres to assist Ward 64 street people. Both the Muizenberg and Kalk Bay improvement districts have put funds towards their operations as they see the value of addressing the increasing needs of street people throughout the communities from Muizenberg all the way to Simon’s Town. Homelessness is not an issue only impacting the Fish Hoek Main Road but is unfortunately increasing exponentially throughout the City.

U-Turn and the Net in Fish Hoek have been identified as Ward 64’s designated organisations to receive food relief via the recent allocation from the City. Both organisations engage in responsible giving campaigns when handing out food to support street people who wish to leave the streets and reintegrate into society.

It is important to note, that anyone living on the street can deny assistance and unfortunately many street people in Fish Hoek have chosen to do so.

The reality is that with a failing national police force the criminals posing as street people, who are in fact not legitimately homeless, are increasingly getting away with lawless behaviour.

City Law Enforcement can only issue fines when witnessing by-law contraventions. And when such cases go to court, because the transgressors have no means to pay, they are promptly dismissed by the magistrates. There unfortunately is no silver bullet to deal with this and I share the community’s frustration. I will continue to work together with businesses, NGOs and the City to find progressive solutions to this ongoing challenge.

• Joshua Chigome, spokesperson for Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez responds: Municipalities are responsible for homeless people not in shelters, and for providing alternative accommodation to house them. Where needed, Social Development will assist in augmenting these municipalities’ interventions as it relates to food security. However, we have seen that there are local support networks of care willing to assist.

The provincial Department of Social Development also provides assistance to the homeless by providing funding to NGOs that work directly to get people off the streets and to empower them with skills-training, uniting them back with their families and integrating them into our communities. For the current financial year, the department allocated funding towards 27 shelters that assist homeless citizens across the province, and the department is also working with NGOs to provide extra mattresses, food, and care packs to these vulnerable citizens.

• Fish Hoek CPF chairman Jonathan Mills responds: I would like to thank Mr Kikillus for being so vigilant in his daily routine. If he can pass on any specifics or open case numbers related to the criminals he refers to, we will certainly follow-up for him with SAPS, law enforcement and the Business Improvement District.

It is important to state in any discussion relating to homelessness that policing alone is not the solution, that being dirty or behaving in an anti-social way doesn’t automatically make someone a criminal, and that we do have excellent organisations working with the homeless here in the valley who absolutely need our support.

I can assure him and the rest of the community that (social welfare issues notwithstanding) the situation has not recently gotten worse from a local crime perspective. The Fish Hoek precinct’s “serious crimes” figures for the last quarter of 2020 were a third lower than they were three years ago.

We recently saw the effectiveness of our local policing partnerships in the extremely quick arrests that followed both of the recent high-profile robberies on the main road as well as the dramatic car chase on Boyes Drive. We hope the message has gone out that Fish Hoek is not a soft target and that genuine criminals will not rest easy here.

As always I encourage everyone to find a way, however large or small, to get involved in the effort to keep our community safe.

• Mayoral committee member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien responds: The City of Cape Town is aware of the increase in the number of street people in numerous suburbs across the metropole.

The proliferation is linked to the continued State of Disaster, declared by the national government, and which has now been extended to April 15.

The City has been at pains to point out the limitations on it from an enforcement perspective as a result of the disaster regulations and other legal challenges.

From a social development perspective, we are doing everything possible to assist as many people on the street as possible, working closely with a number of other government agencies and non-governmental organisations.

This includes facilitating access to shelters and other transitional spaces, reunification with families, access to social and medical services, and even the acquisition of identity documents and access to social grants.

Unfortunately, the number of people taking up these offers pales in comparison to those who simply refuse any form of help.

But we persevere, nonetheless, through regular outreach operations in hotspot areas, including Fish Hoek.

The situation is aggravated by indiscriminate handouts from residents with good intentions, but whose actions keep people on the street and away from the services that are available to offer more long-term, meaningful change in their lives.

The City appeals once more to the public to help street people by making donations directly to registered organisations working in the sector, instead of individuals, and thereby help break the cycle of homelessness.

The City will soon launch its winter readiness programme, which involves making resources available to qualifying shelters so they can increase their available bed spaces during winter.

We have also recently called on organisations working in social development to apply for the latest tranche of grant-in-aid funding from the City.