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

'These safe spaces are temporary, transitional places of safety, where rough sleepers can sleep and store valuables.’ Photo: Supplied

'These safe spaces are temporary, transitional places of safety, where rough sleepers can sleep and store valuables.’ Photo: Supplied

Published May 21, 2024


In my third column focusing on the City of Cape Town’s draft strategy on reducing rough sleeping, please take note of the so-called achievements of the Safe Space since their inception. I was at a loss for words.

The City gives us a rundown of their Safe Space intervention.

These safe spaces are temporary, transitional places of safety, where rough sleepers can sleep and store valuables. Guidance and care are provided to rough sleepers with the aim of assisting them towards re-integration.

Again the City speaks with a forked tongue as they know that there is virtually no chance of re-integrating someone from a safe space, by their own admission, the majority of spending is allocated to safe space tenders (38%) and safe space security (25%) and only 5% on exposure and programmes.

Culemborg Safe Space 1 (CBD): The Culemborg Safe Space was launched in June 2018:

Reintegrations 397, Family Reunification 68, Relocation Unknown, over a 6 year period: 66 per year.

The Culemborg Parking Lot was launched in 2020.

Reintegration’s 67, Family Reunification 71, Relocation 33, over a 4 year period: 43 per year.

Safe Space at Paint City (Bellville, Cape Town) launched in 2020.

Reintegration’s 116, Family Reunification 37, Relocation Unknown, over a 4 year period: 38 per year.

These revelations leave me cold.

No other possible conclusion can be reached other than to say that the safe space intervention, as it stands, is a horrific waste of ratepayers money with no redeeming features.

It translates to 147 individuals being assisted per annum on close to R100 million investment.

I know that the calculation I am revealing to you is over-simplified but it serves to provide a tangible idea the total waste of resources on a programme that depicts a cost of R680 272 to successfully re-integrate one individual.

The City having admitted all this now stipulates that it is in the process of establishing additional Safe Space in the 2023/2024 financial year. The establishment of the Safe Spaces will contribute an additional 400 bed spaces which will reduce the number of people sleeping in open spaces and provide access to developmental services.

Surely, the City understands what it has written and admitted to in the introduction to and summary of its draft strategy, and yet they are proposing opening another safe space operating as the other three do and with the same unqualified and possibly worst performing service provider to be granted a tender in the sector managing it.

The service provider tender for the proposed new Safe Space in Greenpoint was awarded over six months ago, despite the Safe Space still having no fixed opening date. This leaves little doubt in my mind that this strategy is a mere deflection.

This same service provider has been the subject of numerous complaints from both residents and other service providers. They have been the subject of forensic investigations, police criminal investigations, health inspector investigations and SAHRC investigations.

Their tender awards from the City has shocked long-standing and respected organisations.

Somehow, at this point of dissecting this proposed strategy, the whispers of electioneering have become loud screams. Surely, the City can’t be serious about change and expect the provincial government to step up as they should, if they themselves are intent on saying one thing, to put critics at bay for a while whilst they continue doing as they have been doing all along.

To continue a programme whose performance is highlighted by the re-integration of 43 individuals per annum per safe space with ratepayers’ millions is beyond far-fetched and ludicrous.

The City then lists what they refer to as the challenges of, and challenges associated with, rough sleeping, but in effect this is where they blame everything on the national government again.

They mention that the lack of an overarching national framework constitutes a large policy deficit, which has led to an incoherent homelessness policy and strategy at all government levels.

The City goes on to make another mistake in blaming the national government for being bureaucratically constrained, and lacking in innovative and proactive measures as well as funding to address the issue. It is within this context that the City has spent significant effort, as well as funding, to address rough sleeping.

This is false. The national government has failed in not having produced its own guiding policy and the funding for social development is without a doubt never enough but if the City is honest, it is the provincial department that is mandated to introduce programmes, distribute the funds, monitor their spend and evaluate the services being offered by the service providers being paid to provide services.

And it is through the provincial department’s reporting that funding is adjusted annually by the national department.

Only a year ago, in the National Assembly, and in response to a DA member, the National Minister of Social Development read out the figures provided by the Western Cape Provincial Government to her Department.

According to the Western Cape Department, there are 41 street children in the entire Western Cape and they are all accommodated in shelters. They go on to claim that we have 748 unaccommodated adults in total living on the streets of the entire Western Cape. This depicts chronic cluelessness.

The Western Cape Department of Social Development’s and the Western Cape Provincial Government’s lack of interest and involvement in addressing the issue of homelessness is exemplified by the fact that in the entire 5 years of his term as Premier, Alan Winde has in his all his annual budget speeches, featured the words “Homeless” and “Homelessness” twice.

* 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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