Call for homeless shelter

Suzette Little

A Durbanville councillor wants the City to identify a building where growing numbers of homeless can shelter and get help, but the curator of an art gallery harassed by vagrants says it’s a bad idea.

Ward 112 councillor Theresa Uys tabled the motion at last week’s Sub-council 7 meeting. She said the sub-council had identified an urgent need for a street people programme.

Ms Uys said there were growing complaints about homeless people, who were were being pushed into the CBD from neighbourhoods with special ratings areas, and City law enforcement and social services couldn’t cope with the influx.

“The CBD has seen an alarming increase in the number of homeless people in the CBD over the last three months. With an increased number of complaints from the business sector,” she said.

Ms Uys said there were daily complaints about homeless people displaying aggressive and anti-social behaviour. And businesses along Wellington Street were taking the brunt.

She said Valmary Park as well as Goedemoed, Plein and New streets, were hot spots for drunken behaviour, open fires, bin scratching, intimidation of children at the skate park, public urinating and defecating, illegal trading and over-nighting.

Ms Uys said she envisioned a project similar to the Safe Space run by Mould Empower Serve (MES) in Bellville.

Northern News reported previously on problems that Durbanville’s Rust-en-Vrede Gallery had encountered with homeless people. At the time, the gallery’s Donavan Mynhardt said they had had to clear beer bottles, wine boxes and human waste from the premises daily (“Heritage square sculptures vandalised,” Northern News, November 9 2017).

Mr Mynhardt said at the time that vagrants had intimidated and harassed female gallery staff and visitors as well as the elderly, and the gallery had had to lock the front gate at 4pm and advise visitors to park at the back entrance.

Gallery curator Hamlin Jansen van Vuuren told Northern News last week that the situation had deteriorated further since then, and they now had a full-time security guard during the day.

A growing number of young vagrants, she said, had now taken over the area around the gallery, and an elderly couple had been mugged – losing a purse, wallet and cellphone – as they left the gallery last week.

“We see new faces being added daily, and they are very aggressive and prey on the weak and elderly,” she said.

Ms Jansen van Vuuren believes Ms Uys’s call for a homeless help centre will only make things worse.

“The more comfortable it becomes for these vagrants to stay around the Durbanville area, the more they will flock to our town. There are already shelters in place, but you have to be sober to be able to gain entrance. Our local vagrants prefer the freedom of the streets, where KFC, tents, sleeping bags, blankets, clothes and cash get delivered to them on the sidewalk,” she said.

Ms Jansen van Vuuren believes establishing a help centre will be a futile exercise – at the taxpayer’s expense – and will stand empty if vagrants have to be sober to get in.

“The problem with the vagrants is that they do not want to be rehabilitated. They all have an alcohol and drug problem with ample funding from ‘concerned’ citizens.

“Most of the regular faces that we’ve gotten to know over the years have had many job offers and opportunities presented to them. They are simply not interested,” she said.

MES branch manager Lilly Franks said there were mixed feelings among residents about having a specific building, with some echoing Ms Jansen van Vuuren’s sentiment that it would only attract more homeless to the area.

MES is part of the Durbanville Community Kitchen which uses a voucher system, through which homeless people can buy a meal and have access so social work services.

Ms Franks said they had seen a decrease in numbers since they switched from giving the free soup to working on the voucher system, but encouraged residents to continue purchasing the vouchers for the homeless.

“We trust that this change has illuminated the working individuals that just came to receive a free meal. We want to encourage the community to still buy the vouchers from the various churches and to continue handing out vouchers to the homeless people instead of giving them money. This ensures that they come to the community kitchen where they can access the social work services and be assessed,” she said.

Last year, Northern News spoke to Eugene Andrews, who had been living on the streets for about five years.

He said he often got food from passing motorists and from residents who left food on the bin, while Jason Claasen, who had been on the streets for 10 years, said he made a living off the things residents threw away.

Area north Mayco member Suzette Little said the City’s Street People Reintegration Unit had reported 20 chronic vagrants in the area, along with others who were day strollers and job seekers.

She said they responded to frequent complaints in Durbanville, offering social support – such as helping the homeless access shelter, IDs, job programmes and reuniting them with their families – while law enforcement acted against by-law breakers and removed illegal structures.

Durbanville police did not respond to questions by deadline.