Cape Town – Civil society groups and NGOs that support homeless people have called for a summit to be held in Cape Town following the public outcry against the City for fining homeless people for sleeping in public places.
This was one of the outcomes of a meeting held on Thursday at The Hope Exchange, which was chaired by Hannes van der Merwe, chief executive of the Street People’s Forum, and attended by representatives of the groups and NGOs, homeless people and formerly homeless people, and mayco member for community services and health, Zahid Badroodien.
“Homeless people need to be able to speak for themselves; they have agency and hope and aspirations of their own, but they’re often treated like children who need to be disciplined,” said Van der Merwe.
A representative of the NGO U-Turn, Rowen Ravera-Baver, said the public needed to be more aware of homelessness.
“We need to look at a clear date for a summit, whether it’s for one or three days, so we can look at policy reformation,” she said.
Former mayco member for social and early childhood development Suzette Little said homelessness needed to be dealt with by different spheres of government.
“If you look at the fines that were issued to homeless people, they’re for silly things like sitting and eating in public and other trivial things,” she said.
A homeless woman, who identified herself only as Tarryn, said she did not want to sleep at shelters because she had faced sexual abuse at a shelter she had stayed at a few years ago.
“I have a fine of R1500, and I have no idea how I’m supposed to pay it. But because of the abuse I faced in the shelter I was at, and how I was treated, I refuse to go back,” she said.
There was also a call from the NGOs for the City to immediately stop fining homeless people, for all the fines that had been issued over the past few weeks to be scrapped, and for the by-law relating to streets, public places and the prevention of noise nuisances to be amended.
Badroodien said issuing fines to homeless people was never the first option of officials.
“We have the social development team that has the street people unit, comprising different units within the city. There are four different areas made up of a number of social workers, and under the safety and security directorate,” he said.
“This by-law is 12 years old, the street people policy was promulgated in 2013. It’s a policy we have brought to the surface again, so we can look at how to support people better from a social development perspective.”
The provincial commissioner for the SA Human Rights Commission, Chris Nissen, said that he would hold a meeting with mayor Dan Plato to discuss a way forward.