Two articles today are instructive in helping us understand the complexities of the situation on the streets.
This People’s Post article by Astrid Februarie has comments from various street-based people living in the Constantia neighbourhood. The problem is a simple one but it is a difficult one to solve: Cornelius Davids cannot find work because of his criminal record and, while he longs to be off the streets (he’s been living rough for 20 years), he has few options. A compatriot points out that to return ‘home’ is worse as the problems in home communities are terrible.
While the streets are a tough place to survive, it’s extraordinary that such resilient people would still choose to live on the streets rather than face the violence and poverty where they come from. To be fair, many people manage to make the most of living in impoverished communities and this is an extraordinary achievement in itself! But these communities have few resources and it should not be surprising that many people cannot be absorbed by the inherent compassion of Cape Town’s township communities. Sadly, those alienated from these communities, often end up alienated in the ‘host’ communities too.
Mr David’s comments, and the stories of thousands like him, fly in the face of the City’s stated position that the streets are a ‘comfortable’ place to live and that street-based people should rather go ‘home’ – the places they’ve fled.
But still at home…
Thankfully, the City is not a monolithic entity and despite the City’s policy, some City officials and departments are not willing to accept the status quo. This People’s Post article by Nicole McCain highlights the important work being done by Straatwerk and the City’s ablution facility which is maintained by the organisation in the Bo-Kaap. The City is working to ensure that the shower facilities can provide hot water, enabling street-based people to get clean. Together with The Carpenter Shop’s shower facility in Roeland street, these are the only two places currently available for street-based people in the CBD. Services like these are also offered in other parts of the City, for instance by MES in Bellville and Living Hope in Muizenburg, to mention just 2 more. However, the Bo-Kaap facility is directly supported by the City using a City-owned building.
These services are extremely important for helping vulnerable people make the best of their situation. It’s a sign that our society recognises that street-based people need a home, even if it’s on the streets. When there is no other option, forcing people off the streets does more harm than good.
Of even greater importance, these shower facilities are often the first point of contact for organisations working with street-based people. It’s a critical means of rebuilding trust with a community that is cynical about our broader society’s overtures of help. Street-based services like this are the most important first step in addressing the problem of alienated, vulnerable people.