As the winter months draw closer, the incapacity of homeless shelters has worsened the already desperate living conditions of the homeless within the City of Cape Town. In response to the dire needs of homeless individuals, the City of Cape Town is offering food, blankets and toiletries to shelters this winter. However, convener of the Street People’s Forum, Greg Andrews, said that the homeless are more in need of accommodation.
Andrews explained that City shelters currently have approximately 2500 beds, which is entirely full and, therefore, cannot accommodate the remaining 4500 individuals who remain on the streets.
He said that the main problem for the shortage is the lack of onward referrals for housing or old age homes.
“It is [therefore] very hard for those individuals who are living on the streets to move into a shelter, since we don’t have a system for people to engage with shelters.”
Andrews further noted that many chronically homeless individuals, who have lived on the streets for decades, are unable to adapt to a life within any form of accommodation, and instead require emergency overnight shelters.
“Where it is extremely basic and practically just a roof to protect them from the weather, the shelters are doing an extraordinary job under the circumstances, but are quite limited, so we need more space to accommodate more homeless people this winter.”
He said that while the city previously accommodated the shortfall by supplying shelters with mattresses, which would be placed on the floors of shelters, however, with the amended regulations each shelter is provided with a certificate that stipulates the maximum number of individuals
“[Over populating shelters] would compromise the safety of individuals and as authorities monitored fire safety more carefully, shelters were finding themselves in trouble with the law,” Andrews noted.
Andrews said that the organization is currently assessing the possibility of using two facilities as shelters, one in the northern suburbs and one in the southern suburbs, but that it has received resistance from the City.
“We are not sure what the resistance is about, but we suspect that it is because the City takes a dim view of any street-based intervention, there stated policy is to make the street sides comfortable, I think this is a bit short sighted,” he continued.
Mayoral Committee Member for Social Development and Early Childhood Development for the City of Cape Town, councillor Suzette Little, explained that the policy adopted by the City aims to reduce the number of homeless people and said that while the issue of homelessness is a global phenomenon, the City aims to assist those who wish to return to their community of origin.
“In order to assist individuals who have had problems within their communities, we have had our field workers reintegration offices and streets units wrenching interventions. We target our interventions with law enforcement and stakeholders, so that we can give people some sort of service and ultimately take them back to their families of they so wish,” Little stated.
While the City has begun the Winter Reediness Programme, in which it provides shelters with various equipment and services, she said that the City is continuing with its ‘Give Responsibly Campaign’. The City began the campaign after assessments indicated that many individuals beg because community members continue to give them money.
Little said that it would be more effective if members of the public gave charity to an organization or opened an organization directed toward assisting homeless individuals.
“I think it is unfair of us who have to give, because that person stands there the entire day waiting for you to come and give them that hand-out. That person’s entire life goes by with any meaning.”
While homelessness is often the product of traumatic experiences, she said that numerous individuals beg professionally. She referred to one group of individuals who arrive at their begging spot in Durbanville in a car, change their clothes, and open their banners.
Little urged community members to practice caution when giving money at robots, as certain individuals use begging as means to access belongings lying in cars.