Home sweet ... bridge: Cape Town sets up 'safe space' for 230 homeless

04 July 2018 - 09:12 By Jessica Van Den Heever And Nichola Loock
Some of the homeless people who have moved into the City of Cape Town ‘safe space’ under Culemborg Bridge.
Some of the homeless people who have moved into the City of Cape Town ‘safe space’ under Culemborg Bridge.
Image: City of Cape Town

It might not seem like much as temperatures plunge‚ but the City of Cape Town hopes a new “safe space” under a bridge will soon be home for 230 people.

Basic beds‚ toilets and lockers are part of the new space‚ which opened on Friday under Culemborg Bridge in the city centre and already has 11 residents. There is space for 230‚ and it is expected to be fully operational by mid-July.

“There is no blueprint or best practice model for the provision of safe spaces for street people. We are literally learning as we go along‚” said JP Smith‚ the mayoral committee member for safety and security‚ and social services.

“But I do believe it is better to try and adjust as we go along than not to attempt this at all. This pilot will inform the best way forward for the allocation and management of safe spaces for street people within the city‚ with the aim of assisting street people to remain off the street and to be reintegrated back into society.”

Law enforcement officers will be on duty around the clock and council health officials will make regular visits. Residents of the camp will be employed to keep it clean through the Expanded Public Works Programme‚ and soup kitchens will provide meals.

“Practically speaking‚ persons seeking to use the facility will be assigned a storage locker‚ a sleeping pallet‚ sleeping bag and blanket as well as a wellness pack containing hygiene essentials‚” said Smith.

“We want to take pressure off existing shelters and reduce the number of by-law infringements that come with people sleeping or erecting structures in the open‚ but we also want to develop relationships with our clients over a period of time that will hopefully lead to reintegration for some.”

Residents of the ‘safe space’ have each been allocated a locker.
Residents of the ‘safe space’ have each been allocated a locker.
Image: City of Cape Town

Finding ways to help homeless people return home is also the objective at The Haven night shelter in Napier Street‚ on the other side of the city centre. “We used to say buy him a bed‚ now he we say get him home‚” said CEO Hassan Khan.

“A homeless person survives on the street rather than lives. The culture of homelessness needs to change.”

Giving a person a blanket or food enabled them to stay on the street longer instead of finding help‚ he said. “Living on the street is inappropriate‚ unlawful‚ but above all else‚ it is unnecessary.”

A 40-year-old homeless man spoke about the difficulties of living on the streets of Cape Town. “Whenever you find a roof covering‚ you hide away there. I wait for restaurants and bars to close and sleep outside‚” he said.

“I use cardboard boxes to stop cold from the ground and cover myself with plastic.”

He was suffering from poor health when he found The Haven. “I had bronchitis‚ thank goodness I was working so I could afford medication.”

Kahn asked volunteers and donors to rethink how they handle those in need. “Advice is better than resources. Pray with them‚ talk to them‚ and tell them about shelters. A person on the streets is a person‚ not a cause.”

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