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Homelessness in the Mother City

From the City of Cape Town: How we are helping people off the streets who have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The two-year national state of disaster and related economic impact has led to unmatched levels of homelessness in the city – with many people sleeping in public places, including sidewalks, parks, road reserves and under bridges.

Given this situation, only a unique and unprecedented response will help people off the streets in Cape Town and ensure that public places are available for wider public use.

The City of Cape Town is proactively dealing with this situation by:

Wash day blues: on the street
  • Expanding City-run Safe Spaces beyond the CBD and Belville: A total of R142m is allocated to operate and expand these facilities over the next 3 years. A further R10 million is allocated for this winter to expand shelter beds at NGO-run shelters.
  • Stepping up efforts to assess the circumstances of those on the streets, and offer shelter or social assistance: City Social Development & ECD staff are currently busy with a city-wide process of conducting social assessments of those living on the streets. This includes the reasons for homelessness, physical and mental health, living conditions, sources of income. This will result in a referral for social assistance, which can include accommodation at a shelter or City-run safe space.
  • Obtaining court orders regarding the unlawful occupation of public places: Due to the termination of the national State of Disaster, the courts are no longer required by regulation to consider suspending evictions. However, the City’s Streets By-law does not circumvent the need for a court order where a structure is considered a dwelling under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unauthorised Occupation of Land (PIE) Act. In those instances the City will acquire the necessary court order, and ensure alternative accommodation at shelters or safe spaces has been offered, where this is just and equitable.
  • Enabling the proper application of the Streets By-law: Where the PIE Act is not applicable, the City will apply the Streets by-law as follows:
    • City Social Development & ECD staff conduct a social assessment of a person’s circumstances and offer social assistance/shelter.
    • If refused, a joint operation with law enforcement takes place in which shelter is again offered.
    • If again refused, a compliance notice is issued, indicating the steps, deadline, and consequences of non-compliance.
    • If not complied with, a written notice may be issued to appear in court. Offers of social assistance and shelter remain available at all times.
    • If the person fails to appear, the court may issue a warrant of arrest.
    • It will then be up to the court and prosecutors to determine the way forward. The City would like to see the courts ordering rehabilitation, rather than opting for punitive measures such as fines or imprisonment.

The City will follow these five guiding principles in helping people off the streets:

It seems like there are more tents on the streets every day

1. Cape Town must be, first and foremost, a caring city, that always tries first to help people off the streets.

2. No person should live on the streets. This is unsafe, unhealthy, and undignified. Accepting sustainable solutions off the streets is the best choice for dignity, health and well-being.
3. Our city’s public places serve important social, community and economic purposes, and must be open and available to all. No person has the right to reserve a public space as exclusively theirs, while indefinitely refusing all offers of shelter and social assistance.
4. It is not an offence to sleep on the streets if you do not have a choice. Only after refusing offers of shelter and social assistance, should the law take its course as a necessary last resort deterrent for the sustainable management of public places.
5. The City encourages courts and prosecutors to ensure that rehabilitation is favoured over punitive fines and imprisonment, wherever it is just to do so in matters relating to prohibited conduct in public places.

Read more about the City’s plans to help people off the streets this winter.

Any enquiries and/or complaints relating to persons on the street can be directed to the City’s Public Emergency Communication Centre by dialing 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline. This channel is also available for after-hours enquiries about shelter space. The PECC will activate standby teams from the Street People Programme Unit, who will be able to help determine the availability of shelter spaces and related admissions criteria

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