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The proposed 300-bed Safe Space for homeless people in Green Point, Cape Town, is one step closer to being realised. This week, the North West Municipal Planning Tribunal voted to give permission for the temporary use of a part of a municipal depot.

On 4 July, tribunal members voted four to one to allow part of the municipal depot on Ebenezer Road, currently used for storage, to be converted into a safe space for people living on the streets of Green Point. The property is underneath an elevated freeway.

Faren Benting, case officer for the application, said that the process had gone through an extensive public participation process. She said 16 submissions in favour had been received and 65 against.

Nazlie du Toit, of the City’s Social Development Department, said the City had started consulting people living on the streets in 2016 about the project. She said a survey of homeless people in 2018 found there was a shortage of bed space at shelters. “During winter particularly we have a challenge with bed space … the purpose of the Safe Space is a temporary solution for people living on the street.”

The City’s three Safe Spaces (two in the CBD and one in Bellville) currently cater to 730 people, Du Toit said. “The benefit of the Safe Space is that it provides a place where people can sleep at night and where they can safely lock away their valuables and not be at risk of danger during the night.”

Spider Clark, chairperson of the De Waterkant Civic Association (DWCA), said there was “woefully insufficient detail and inadequate information on the operational plans”. He said the City should provide more specific detail on law enforcement.

This was the first Safe Space in a residential area, he said. “What can we expect on day one?” he asked the officials.

Chair of the meeting, Sydney Holden, said the initiative was in line with the City’s spatial planning and should be welcomed. “The people already are living on the streets in the area, with no access to basic services or amenities.”

“The reality was on our doorstep”, he said.

He said management would be a challenge and conditions should be imposed to ensure security.

Nigel Burls, a town planner and tribunal member, said he was shocked by some of the comments received during the public participation process. “I thought they were disgusting. We are not living in 1960, this is 2023. We live in a society and a country that needs to deal with people in a dignified manner.”

“The reality is that we are dealing with people who largely reside in the area on the streets and in an entirely inappropriate and inhumane fashion. The solution put before us is a humanitarian response to what is a massive crisis in this city.”

He said his concern was the size of the Safe Space and the impact it would have on neighbours.

Dewaldt Smit, who also supported the application, said homelessness had increased since the Covid pandemic. “In Green Point, just go and drive around, you will notice homeless people. It makes logical sense. The City has a structure that is easily lending itself to be converted in a temporary manner, to close a gap.”

Susan Matthysen, City district manager, also voted in favour of the application.

The one objection in the meeting came from Dimitri Georgeades, the City’s environmental and heritage manager. He questioned the public participation process, saying the number of responses received showed that there was great public interest in the matter. He also suggested that the City strengthen its arguments. He said there was no doubt that the Safe Space was necessary, but lack of policy explanation, operational detail, and motivation for the site selection made it difficult to assess.

Ward councillor Ian McMahon told GroundUp that he fully supported the Safe Space project. He said operational aspects of the Safe Space would be dealt with in a separate tender.

He said at a meeting of ratepayers he had explained that “those folks are already residing in makeshift structures in the area, from the city centre, Waterfront and all along the Atlantic Seaboard.”

“So we are not creating or attracting more homelessness, but actually providing necessary Safe Space for persons already in the area.”

Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health Patricia van der Ross said the City was pleased with the public participation process and welcomed the comments received. Asked what the next stage was, she said there was an appeal period during which objections might be received.

The City was assessing other sites for future Safe Spaces, she said. – Matthew Hirsch, GroundUp

Originally published by GroundUp on 5 July 2023

Photo: U-turn Homeless Ministries