Part Two: A response to the City’s strategy to reduce rough sleeping

‘If the shelters and safe spaces are in fact already doing what the City claims they are doing, why would new housing alternatives be necessary?’. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

‘If the shelters and safe spaces are in fact already doing what the City claims they are doing, why would new housing alternatives be necessary?’. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 14, 2024


This is part two of a three-part column. Part one is here, “A response to the City’s strategy to reduce rough sleeping.

This is the second part of my in-depth analysis of the City’s draft strategy to reduce rough sleeping. As I mentioned last week, something just doesn’t add up and so, I continue my page-by-page analysis of this draft strategy.

As if forgetting what they have admitted, the City switches gears and suggests that the shelters and safe spaces play a significant role in terms of seeking to unlock the individual’s innate abilities through training or employment opportunities that tap into community resources (eg through a partnership with local skills NGOs and business chambers).

This is a blatant lie. With the exception of a handful of independently run shelters that do go the extra mile, most are nothing more than a place to take refuge for the night and no such services are offered.

Even a basic necessity like an initial appointment with the resident social worker to assess new intakes are few and far between.

In fact, the City itself alludes to this. It should be noted, however, that transitional housing or shelters may be required to support a pathway to permanent housing and reintegration into society.

If the shelters and safe spaces are in fact already doing what the City claims they are doing, why would new housing alternatives be necessary?

The danger with this type of narrative is that it leaves enough room to retain the current model and merely say that extra services are now being employed by these same facilities.

Then the strategy surprises again with another important deviation from the City’s usual narrative that its safe spaces provide sustainable employment opportunities for those opting to stay there through the EPWP programme, when it stipulates correctly that while providing a “leg-up”, the temporary nature of the EPWP employment option often undermines the ability of rough sleepers to escape poverty traps, or amass skills in high demand from the labour market.

A need exists to create platforms for skilled or relatively well-educated rough sleepers so that they might be supported through developmental programmes.

But at this stage the strategy starts reminding me of a school project where the student was given a topic and then copies and pastes from various sources without truly understanding the need to assimilate certain facts and ensure that there are no contradicting opinions or facts resulting in a disjointed presentation and revealing the student’s lack of insight.

While admitting that the City has no database to know who is actually sleeping rough and to help determine the services they require, the strategy suddenly claims that some experiences are common across all groups of rough sleepers.

Primary among them is victimisation from policing and business entities (occurring between 50% to 75% of rough sleepers).

The outcome is that these individuals are often perceived as being criminal due to rough sleepers conducting private activities in public places noting that some of these activities are prohibited by City by-laws.

So, not only does the strategy contradict itself with regards to the availability of reliable data on homelessness, it is now also suggesting that the criminalisation of those living on the streets is based on them being victimised for performing private functions in public places for obvious reasons and then blame their own recently changed and discriminatory by-laws.

Then at one stage the strategy speaks to the valuable services offered through the safe spaces and mentions referrals to the City’s Matrix outpatient programme as one of these important interventions, not mentioning that referrals are just that and do not necessarily guarantee success, but a page or two later state the following:

“The reality is that the majority of persons living on the street require substance abuse rehabilitation, however, due to a lack of rehabilitation centres or limitations in out-patient services, it proves to be a major challenge.” Now which one is it?

I suddenly feel as if I am dealing with a City that is struggling with multiple personality disorder.

Rough sleepers are noted as having a profound ability to establish rules among themselves on navigating and utilising shared public spaces among themselves.

This resilience provides a narrative of rough sleepers being strong human beings with an active role to play in their own development, with a robust set of skills and rich social networks.

These social networks are used in part for identifying job opportunities or other forms of income generation. On the whole, such social networks are used to foster a sense of belonging.

I agree with this narrative 100% but if this is the case why are we treating them like children, allowing them no agency in determining what the best version of themselves could look like?

Why are we accommodating them in places where they are separated from those they are close to and feel they belong with and where they are told what to do, how to do it and when to do it and spend a quarter of the total budget on security to ensure these dictatorial rules are followed?

* Carlos Mesquita is an activist for the homeless and a researcher working in the Western Cape Legislature for the GOOD Party.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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