City Safe Spaces: A Possible Solution to a Bigger Problem.

Are the City of Cape Town’s safe spaces a possible long-term solution to homelessness?

COVID-19 has managed to reshape the Western Cape government’s policies and actions regarding homelessness and evictions. There has been a halt placed on forcibly removing Cape Town residents from informal settlements and other areas intended for city development. The province’s government has chosen to rather focus resources on preventing the spread of COVID-19, especially in communities prone to disease.

The City’s Original Plan

To combat the deadly virus, the city has decided to enter a program whereby with each phase, a specific number of homeless individuals are to enter shelters. Zahid Badroodien who is a mayoral committee member explained that the first phase has planned for 4000 people to enter the shelters. Badroodien also believes that this is an opportunity for the city to provide the kind of housing and shelter they were unable to in the past, and this scheme could be a long-term solution to the homelessness issue in Cape Town.

Simultaneously, the city of Cape Town and other cities have made it officially illegal for any forced removal and eviction to take place during the 21 lockdowns, as the nation grapples with how to move forward and plan around the outbreak.

The Plan Unravels

Since the initiation of a nationwide lockdown, the City of Cape Town has been struggling to find places to house, shelter and feed over 4000 homeless people. This problem arose after the national government did not approve of the sites the City of Cape Town suggested would be suitable. Fortunately, Badroodien reassured the public that they are “doing everything possible to provide safe spaces” for those displaced and living on the streets of Cape Town. 

Although these sites were erected and were an additional source of safety during the national crisis, it was still inadequate. Many other areas that were proposed, such as Robbie Nurcock Day Hospital, were no longer an option in an effort to minimize the use of resources. This left a significant remainder of unsheltered individuals of the city’s homeless population of around 5000 people.

Lack of Follow Through

Additionally, there were been reports of a lack of mattresses, sanitation facilities, and extremely strict rules over the shelter’s occupants. 26-year-old Walter Nyamugama, a Zimbabwean man who has been in Vredehoek and living in Van Riebeek Park, explained to GroupUp, he and other individuals had been prevented from getting food from the soup kitchen provided by Ladles of Love. He said that SAPS responded to their attempts to go to the kitchens in Greenpoint and Culemborg safe space, with the possibility of 27 days in prison. 

Moreover, some of the occupants who have ailments were also restricted from movement in the city, even going to the local hospitals due to the access control at the shelters.

Should the COVID-19 issue prevail and force South Africa to remain in some sort of lockdown simulation, there were many concerns as to whether these shelters could have been maintained and if the tenting used was steadfast enough to last into the winter.

Recent developments 

Following the deficit in resources in respective shelters, the City has managed to consolidate a plan as the antidote to the issue of homelessness alongside COVID-19. This past weekend in Strandfontein there were facilities being constructed in the form of a “village” to house the homeless of Cape Town.

The city organized for people to be bussed from around the city and brought to a plot of 6 marquees that had been built over the weekend. 590 were transported on Sunday evening and Badroodien stated that more buses traveled on Monday morning to populate the 240 000 square meters of land. The site is equipped with showers, toilets, a mobile store, and facilities for isolation when needed. The plot was considered most suitable due to access to water and electricity since it is situated within a sports complex. Badroodien ensures that the areas are safe and secure as there is a fence across the facility. There is also the presence of metro police alongside additional security reinforcement, and Badroodien stressed that it is to reassure the residents in the Strandfontien community of their safety and the homeless people’s safety. 

You can help by donating to the Haven Night Shelter, an NGO that is assisting, among others, the City of Cape Town at the Culemborg safe space with food, toiletries, social work and other necessities. Find out more on Instagram and visit their website.

Words: Rufaro Chiswo

Images: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)