We write to you openly because we are deeply concerned about the Municipality’s actions regarding the problems faced by homeless people in the COVID-19 epidemic.
We believe that the City’s plan to relocate homeless people to a small number of large locations for shelter is a wrong and dangerous decision. Using a single large venue, in order to save resources, may result in the opposite result, as public money has to be invested in a structure that is likely to be dangerous and unusable.
The centralised solution has been shown to be flawed because of the problem of the presence of people with TB which needs to be addressed. This led to stopping the relocations.
Since COVID-19 can remain asymptomatic for, on average, five days after infection, and no testing is planned, homeless people may be admitted to the venue already infected and may then infect others.
The fact that homeless people are said to be ‘apprehended’ after leaving the site implies a high level of coercion is to be used, which we do not think is appropriate in encouraging homeless people to voluntarily locate to a site where they must socially distance.
We see now that the City appears to suddenly finds itself with no obvious solutions. We think it is necessary to change the paradigm for addressing the situation of the homeless during the COVID-19 emergency. We need to recognise there is a plurality of ways to address the problem which can build multiple solutions in a network system, with greater robustness and therefore with better sustainability. We need a system of small solutions, which maintain the relationship with the City and the local area.
Civic organisations, NPOs and all civilian bodies, together with hundreds of citizens, have organised themselves into one of the largest networks in the country on COVID-19 activities. Cape Town Together Community Action Network (CAN) is a rapidly developing community- based response to COVID-19. Currently there are 1134 active volunteers working in 66 CAN member bodies across the city—see the map at. http://cptcan.co.za/map. Many of the CAN member bodies are actively involved in implementing local solutions to support and protect homeless persons in their areas—all on a voluntary basis.
As civic organisations we think that a fundamental rethink on the homeless issue should be based on the following principles:
1. Every possible solution must have an epidemiological assessment.
2. The City must work with civil society organizations to identify a range of responses based on
solutions of all sizes spread across the municipality with strong support from local organizations, citizens and the local economy. Such examples can be seen on the CAN networks.
3. The city must facilitate, promote and support citizens’ self-organization in dealing with the
COVID-19 crisis and set up a coordination group to facilitate the work of volunteers and support structures (education and awareness raising activities, support for people elderly and frail, food distribution etc.)
The signatory organisations of this letter offer to share with the City their commitment, experience and actions for building together a City plan to combat COVID-19. The City must
also work with NGO’s and organisations who work with the homeless (Souper Troopers, Ladles
of Love, Circle of Compassion, The Haven, U-Turn, etc,) to find solutions. We hope that the city welcomes this proposal for collaboration in the spirit that should distinguish every public administration: to be the servants of the public interest.
Cherrel Jacobs, Ottery Civic Association
Lorna Levy, Isa-Lee Jacobson, Sea Point for All
Leslie London, Observatory Civic Association
Bevil Lucas, Woodstock Residents Association
Warda Rahim, Salt River Residents Association
Osman Shaboodien, Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers Association
Nazeer Ahmed Sonday, PHA Food & Farming Campaign
Leslie Swartz, Kensington and Factreton Resident and Ratepayers Association Anne Taylor, City Bowl Ratepayers and Residents Association
For information and to support this letter: Andrea Couvert