On Thursday, 6 August 2015 the City of Cape Town convened a media briefing to release a summary of the results from research conducted by city-appointed researcher Lynn Hendricks on homelessness in the city.
The Street People’s Forum (SPF) welcomes this research project. It congratulates researcher Lynn Hendricks on conducting her work in a patient, conscientious and ethical way. The research is a positive and constructive step towards enriching our collective understanding of and approaches to homelessness.
We are keen to see the full research report in order to glean more in-depth insight into the clients that our member organisations serve.
Furthermore, the SPF is encouraged by recent developments in the sector which demonstrate that the Directorate is leading the City in more effective and humane containment strategies for anti-social behaviour on the streets, notably the Streetscapes programme run by Khulisa in partnership with UTurn, Service Dining Rooms and Straatwerk. The research will contribute greatly to such ventures.
The SPF is disappointed that it was not appraised of the results of the research before they were released to the media despite the City’s commitment to do so.
When the research was initiated in June 2014 the SPF and its members were only notified of their expected participation in this major city-wide research project one week before it was due to commence. This was met with anger by organisations who had very little time to prepare nor were organisations able to input on the structure and methodology of the research. Despite this, many of the SPF’s member organisations were actively involved with the research over the year-long implementation but urged the City to engage with the sector to prevent further blunders and ensure that the research could be completed ethically and as accurately as possible. The City committed to engage with the sector through stakeholder meetings organised by Cornelia Finch, Project Manager of the Directorate’s Street People Department.
Global experience suggests that cities with good collaboration with civil society have better results in addressing social issues. Considerable effort has gone into cultivating a relationship of mutual trust between the SPF and the Directorate to mend a long-standing relationship of antagonism. Sadly, this has mostly been a one-way effort with only grudging reciprocation on the part of officials.
Communication has been poor and meetings regularly postponed or cancelled with short notice. Requests for information regarding budgets and implementation plans have been ignored or stalled. The City continues to present its relationship with civil society as a constructive one, trotting our figures of questionable validity which SPF member organisations cannot substantiate. Since many organisations are providers to the City of services for street-based people, this behaviour puts our members in a compromised position.
Given the continued disregard for the SPF and its members, the SPF resolves that a more productive way to proceed is to take engagement with the Directorate into the public realm. Continuing to engage behind closed doors only serves to perpetuate the perception of complicity with the City and frustrate public accountability.
The SPF therefore would like to use this opportunity to urge the Directorate to publish the full research report without redaction. It also urges the City to publish a full account of how the Street People Department in the Directorate spends its funds in alleviating the plight of street-based people.
While the SPF is well-acquainted with the City’s policies it is yet to have sight of the Directorate’s vaunted “plan”. The SPF is keen to know in what way its members’ experience will be, if at all, utilised in this plan and in what way the research results impact or serve to augment this action plan.
We hope the Directorate will use this opportunity to demonstrate to the public that it is sincere about making a difference to the City’s citizens alienated on the streets.