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Homeless people living in the city centre, some of whom were born on the street, say they don’t know where they will go, after they were issued with eviction notices by the City on Monday.

It is unclear how many homeless people were issued with eviction notices following a successful application by the City in the Western Cape High court, but the areas around the CBD that the City identified as “unlawful occupation hotspots” include along Buitengracht Street, FW De Klerk Boulevard, Foregate Square, Taxi Rank and Foreshore, Helen Suzman Boulevard, Strand Street, Foreshore/N1, Virginia Avenue and Mill Street Bridge in the city.

Gershwin Thomas has been staying in Strand Street with his older brother for seven years and detailed how they were met by law enforcement on Monday morning.

“We had woken up from where we usually sleep because we got wet from the rain. We went to find another place to sleep but suddenly we just saw security people coming to us, moments after the city law enforcement came and they chased us away. We usually start our day off with a prayer. But we could not do that.

“They really treat us like animals.

They use words like ‘voetsek’ when they speak to us. Life on the street is not easy, and being treated like this is a reminder of that,” he said.

Jan Collins said he left Mitchells Plain to seek work when both his parents died but ended up on the street.

“We are frustrated, cold and wet. The law enforcement comes any time and they chase us around like animals. We were at the shelter, but you must pay to sleep there,” Collins said.

Chandre Absolon, who was born on the street, said she refused to go to a shelter.

“The law enforcement came and asked me how long I have been on the street and where I sleep. Then they asked me why I don’t want to stay in the night shelter. I told them I don’t want to sleep there for my own reasons.

“They tell me to leave the area. But I told them I can’t leave because I grew up here. I have lived on the street since I was still a baby. My parents lived on the street as well,” she said.

The City said it would serve the notices prior to the next court hearing in April, where the court may grant a final eviction order.

The City said it had “made repeated offers of social assistance to those unlawfully occupying public spaces in the city, including offers of dignified transitional shelter at NGO-run night shelters and City-run Safe Spaces.”

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, said: “We have done our absolute level best over the past year to extend every offer of care to each of these people, and to help them off the streets.
“Where this has been persistently refused, we must now ask the courts for the order we are seeking.

“No person has the right to reserve a public space as exclusively theirs, while indefinitely refusing all offers of shelter and social assistance.”

Homeless activist organisation, U-turn said while they were cognisant of appropriate by-law governance, they did not believe eviction action would solve the problem of homelessness.

Spokesperson, Cathy Achilles, said: “We believe that every person is intrinsically valuable and no one should have to sleep on the streets…However, the pursuit of evictions and/or punitive measures does not solve the problem of homelessness but simply moves it on to another area. In Cape Town there are more than 14 000 people who are sleeping rough on the streets and only about 3 500 shelter beds available. Through 25 years of experience, U-turn has seen that a developmental approach, that creates a pathway out of homelessness, is the only long-term sustainable solution,” said Achilles.

Civil activist organisation, Ndifuna Ukwazi’s (NU), Daniellé Louw, said: “The prevailing attitude by the City towards homelessness has been to address complaints from residents in brick houses rather than addressing those in need themselves… The City cannot blame its citizens for the failure of its own system. It is the duty of the state to care for all who live in it – and not one it can throw its hands in the air and absolve itself from.”

NU added that homelessness should not be viewed as a problem with individuals, but as a problem of poverty.

“The attempt to shovel people into shelters is just putting a tiny plaster on a gaping wound that is the housing crisis in Cape Town.” -Siphokazi Vuso and Chevon Booysen, Cape Times

Originally published in the Cape Times on 21 February 2023

Photo: Canva