Convenor’s Thoughts: No Excuse for Institutional Blindness

In the Lead SA article City of Cape Town committed to reduce number of homeless people¬†published on 12 October 2016, Councillor Suzette Little, Mayco Member for Social Development and Early Childhood Development,¬†says that the City of Cape Town has a “problem with individuals and organisations who continue to feed homeless people.”

Based on the City’s policy on homelessness, I assume that Cllr Little means that such feeding enables street-based people to stay on the street instead of engaging in services aimed at helping them reintegrate into society.

The City’s Street People Policy is flawed in that it provides no evidence for the assertion that giving money, or food, worsens the plight of street-based people or increases anti-social behaviour. Cllr Little compounds the error by speaking from a position of substantial authority without any grounds to do so thus cementing public perception that street-based people are willfully refusing the offer to help. Such misinformation exacerbates public hostility and alienation of vulnerable people.

Whatever one’s personal views are on giving to people on the street, I think it is reasonable for all citizens to expect their government to operate in as rational a manner as possible for the sake of efficiency and humanity. Anecdote, conjecture and supposition are poor grounds for managing systemic social change.

That the City’s Social Development Department continues to toe this line is mystifying since their own research conducted in 2015 calls into question the statements Cllr Little made and the policy in general. This raises the possibility that the research has not been published in full precisely because it would erode the Department’s credibility and call into question their punitive policies and resulting approach to services.

Recent pilot projects by Cape Town organisations provide excellent case studies that show securing a steady income for street-based people enables these individuals to solve their own problems and decreases anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, such initiatives demonstrate a more cost-effective means of dealing with street-based people as opposed to the punitive approach enforced by the City.

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