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Plans to not turn the old Robbie Nurock Day Hospital in Buitenkant Street into a homeless shelter have been met with sharp criticism by some District Six (D6) residents.

The Western Cape Department of Social Development said recently these plans were axed due to asbestos in the building which made it unsafe.

The department added that it had secured an alternative space – the old Tafelberg crèche based in Zonnebloem.

The provincial treasury has allocated R18 million to the new site.

Resident Asa Salie says she is angry that authorities are planning to build a shelter while many claimants are in limbo.

“There is going to be a shelter, so homeless people will be living there but the people who were removed from District Six are still waiting to come back. The people who were thrown out of their houses are still waiting to return. Our children have no recreational facilities.”

The Robbie Nurock building is a property of the Western Cape Government under the custodianship of the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW).

Jandre Bakker, Head of Communication for DTPW, says it was one of four sites identified as a possible homeless shelter but following the assessment process – which included condition and environmental assessment and zoning requirements, it was found not to be ideal for this purpose.

According to Bakker, the building has been earmarked for use by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport for the Cape Town Museum.

No date for this has been confirmed yet as it is subject to the allocation of applicable resources.

According to Salie, many other sites can be used.

“There are already five homeless shelters in District Six. Are you telling me they can’t find any other place?

“The Tafelberg site is restitution land. I know Tafelberg creche as Silvertree Clubhouse, they now want to turn that into a shelter for the homeless. What about Tafelberg school in Sea Point? That’s been standing there, turn that into a shelter.”

Salie adds: “I cannot make sense of the fact that Robbie Nurock has now got all this asbestos.

“That means it was dangerous for me to attend the hospital there. If there’s asbestos and it’s dangerous for people to live there, then I must go find out if I don’t have asbestos in me and everyone else who went there.”

Salie says she has nothing against people living on the street.

“I have compassion for the homeless, but the fact is, they can’t find the money to bring the people back who were removed. Why can’t we as residents of D6 not have Silvertree creche back to how it was and the services it offered?”

Nadeem Hendricks, the founding member of the District Six Beneficiary Trust, calls the department’s plans “disgraceful.”

“I can never be associated with it or welcome it. Every grain of sand, every particular building that is in that particular D6 area is a part of the heritage and the lifeblood of D6.

“It is clearly indicated in the land claims court that that area will be exclusively for the use of returnees of D6.

“We are not unsympathetic toward homelessness but the ineptness of provincial government and the city to provide alternative accommodation. They want to defile the heritage of D6.

The claimants of D6 must come back and the people living there must oppose it at every cost, simply because it is a theft of their particular heritage,” explains Hendricks.

Tania Colyn, communications head for the provincial department of cultural affairs and sport, says in the interim, Cape Town Museum has been working on creating a Walk-in Centre at 148 Long Street that showcases the plans and vision for Cape Town Museum until the museum’s permanent residence is finalised.

She says the department is working towards launching the Walk-in Centre in May this year.

The provincial social development department says during the current financial year, R31 million was transferred to 37 shelters for homeless adults.

The subsidies include funding for a social worker post at each shelter, nutrition, and operational costs.

This excludes the City of Cape Town funded shelters and safe spaces.

Monique Mortlock-Malgas, the spokesperson to provincial social development minister Sharna Fernandez, says the department has increased the number of shelter bed spaces funded from 1 500 in 2020 to nearly 2 400 this year as part of its efforts to address the increased need for these services in the province.

“The department provides access to services inside shelters including reunification services – reunifying people with their families – as well as referrals to other services like counselling or substance use disorder treatment, health services, etc.”

She says the department has allocated R50 million toward Community Nutrition and Development Centres (CNDCs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs).

The Department currently supports 68 CNDCs, and 512 CBOs, which feed vulnerable individuals.

There has been an increase in feeding sites, from 92 in 2020 to a total of 570 this year. -Kaylynne Bantom, People’s Post

Originally published in the People’s Post on 28 March 2023

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