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Civic society organisations have welcomed the establishment of Safe Spaces as a significant step towards addressing homelessness in the city.

The City of Cape Town recently announced a Safe Space in Green Point in addition to the three existing sites.

The safe spaces are aimed at providing more shelter space, basic amenities, and access to social services for persons living on the street and as a stepping stone for those who want help with getting off the street.

Non-governmental organisations working for change in Cape Town’s urban development welcomed the City’s efforts to make a positive change in the lives of people who live on the streets.

Ndifuna Ukwazi said: “It would have been hard to believe some years ago that the City of Cape Town is building shelters in Green Point.”

Two years ago, the City’s Law Enforcement officers impounded the belongings of people living on the streets in Green Point during an illegal eviction.

The officers allegedly confiscated life-supporting anti-retroviral drugs, asylum-seeking papers and artwork.

The Young Urbanists South Africa described the establishment of Safe Spaces as a “big change in policy and approach” towards addressing the complex issue of homelessness.

Managing Director of Young Urbanists South Africa, Roland Postma said: “This initiative provides a safe and dignified environment for people to access support services and assistance, offering an opportunity to transition out of homelessness and towards stability”.

While applauding the City’s commitment to engaging with the public and seeking feedback on the proposed Safe Spaces initiative, Young Urbanists SA offered suggestions to improve the initiative.

The suggestions included providing specific support for victims of gender based violence (GBV), ensuring that individuals who were provided with shelter were not relocated away from their communities and any potential livelihoods or income sources.

The organisation also called for more shelters and meaningful engagement with people living on the streets.

“Meaningful and ongoing engagement with people who are homeless throughout this initiative is very important,” said Postma.

Furthermore, “the programme should be urgently rolled out to other areas and there should be a strong connection to social impact programmes like the Streets Cape Food Garden in the CBD,” he added.

Ndifuna Ukwazi also implored the City to engage directly with those who had worked in the sector for a long time, to truly understand the depths of the work required to make the system truly effective.

“Currently the role of the Safe Spaces is not vastly different from a night shelter, which predominantly serves to give people shelter in the evening. Our view is that while this is a step in the right direction, the offering is limited and will not adequately address homelessness in Cape Town. The right to adequate housing must include security of tenure”, said the organisation.

The City plans to spend R230 million over the next three years on Safe Spaces for homeless people.

The proposed Green Point Safe Space, to be located under the fly-over bridge on Ebenezer Road, would provide over 300 beds, a cost of R8,25 million for its development and R10 million to operate it.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) welcomed the Safe Space Initiative as a demonstration of a “departure from the previous administration’s approach”.

However, Commissioner Chris Nissen said the City would need to look at a sustainable programme to ensure that the homeless people were reintegrated in society.

Nissen also called on the Department of Health to play a more significant role and not just support the homeless people with medication, only for them to be sent back onto the streets.

“I would also like to see Safe Spaces established in other areas such as Manenberg, Khayelitsha, Elsies River where people are also experiencing homelessness.”

Mayco member for Community Services and Health Patricia van der Ross there were currently three Safe Spaces namely Culemborg 1 and 2 in the CBD, and Paint City in Bellville.

She said apart from accommodation and access to ablutions, the Safe Spaces also provided access to social services and psycho-social support.

Van der Ross added that through the Safe Spaces opportunities for street people were also created for them to take part in Expanded Public Works Programmes (EPWP).

Forty-five year old Mark Petersen hoped that he, too, would benefit from the Green Point Safe Space.

“I have been living on the streets for more than 15 years. My wife, Portia and I would want to live in a Safe Space and ultimately be able to move back to the Ravensmead community where we lived before our Wendy house was burnt down”.

Ricardo Pipus also thought that the Safe Space was a “good idea” as life on the streets was “not pleasant” and exposed people to danger.

“We appreciate the move. But some of us do not like the strict rules. I hope they will be able to relax the rules.”

Public comment for the proposed Green Point Safe Space was scheduled to close on 8 May.

“We urge all young South Africans to pledge their full support to the Safe Spaces initiative and to stamp out any Not In My Backyard moves in the Green Point area.

“Moreover, we also encourage the City of Cape Town to continue its efforts to roll out this programme in as many areas as possible. We believe that this initiative has the potential to make a positive impact on the lives of those in need and contribute to the well-being and safety of the entire community,“ said Postma.

He added that housing for the homeless should be part of the future “liveable, caring and working” South African neighbourhoods.

Originally published in the Weekend Argus on 30 April 2023

Photo: Pexels/Timur Weber