The City of Cape Town (CoCT) has responded to reports that it had implemented fines for homeless people on the city’s streets and public spaces.
On Monday, News24 reported that homeless people faced hefty fines for various by-law contraventions – such as obstructing pedestrian traffic on sidewalks and other offences, with fines ranging from R300 up to R1,500.
According to city officials, they had been inundated with numerous complaints from residents from different areas about the contravention of by-laws.
The city’s response has been met with outrage on social media.
The African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters have responded to the fines, calling them “cruel”.
In an official statement from MMC for Safety and Security JP Smith and MMC for Community Services and Health Zahid Badroodien, the city said it was not illegal to be homeless and street people were entitled to freedom of movement. However, the city explained they were expected to abide by the laws of the country and the by-laws of the city – particularly the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances.
It also said the by-law was promulgated in 2007 and and that the fines were set by the Department of Justice, and not the city.
In its defence, Smith and Badroodien said Cape Town was one of the few administrations that had invested in the plight of the homeless through a host of interventions in the last decade.
These include services such as, but not limited to, field workers who spend their days reaching out to street people, offering assistance with access to social services, including temporary shelter, IDs, social grants and temporary employment opportunities.
The city said despite its efforts, however, “many street people simply refuse any form of assistance”.
It also said an increase in the number of homeless people had been an issue.
“For several years, we have been focusing strongly on social development, as the myriad interventions attest to.
However, the dynamics on our streets have changed for a number of reasons, including an increase in the number of parolees being released by the Correctional Services Department, as well as an increase in the number of foreign nationals on the streets, due to a non-functioning immigration service.”
As a result of the increasing challenges, the City said it had to balance its social outreach activity with enforcing adherence to by-laws.
“It is important to note that this by-law was promulgated in 2007, so it is not new. The issuing of fines in relation to this specific by-law is not new either. Furthermore, the fines are set by the Department of Justice, and not the city,” it said.
OVER 3,000 COMPLAINTS RELATED TO HOMELESS PEOPLE RECEIVED
According to the city, 3,051 complaints from the public about anti-social behaviour were recorded, resulting in 199 fines being issued.
“The city is in the unenviable position of trying to balance the rights of street people with the rights of
the general population. Homelessness is a global phenomenon that very few countries have managed to adequately address. Add to that the fact that it is a hugely emotive and complex issue, one can start appreciating the difficult task this administration faces,” it said.