Squatters in Vasco Park and council houses in Justin Street are adding to the “rotting” of Brooklyn, say residents who have started a petition calling for action from the authorities.
A group calling itself Protect Brooklyn, which has about 12 members and says it wants to “take back” the community, has collected almost 400 signatures for the petition, which it plans to present to the municipality.
Fay Vogel, a member of the group, says the City seems to be uninterested in its efforts to “fix” Brooklyn.
Vasco Park had been neglected for years, despite many requests to have the area cleaned, she said.
“The squatters there are coming from Mill Street, where they were evicted from some months ago,” she said, adding that vagrants and drug addicts had occupied three houses in Justin Street.
“The City is adding to our problems, and they are not helping the community.”
She accused ward councillor Fabian Ah-Sing of failing the community.
“We need his urgent attention in matters that affect this community, emotionally and mentally, as we see the injustice Brooklyn has been served.”
In April 2021, Vasco Street resident Lee van der Westhuizen complained about rats invading her home opposite the park, where two shacks had been built and where rubbish was being dumped (“Residents complain about the rise of rodents in Brooklyn,” Tabletalk, April 28, 2021).
On Wednesday July 5, Tabletalk found 10 families squatting at the park in seven shacks. In the tall grass among burnt rubble and refuse, someone had started a small fire while a child played on a broken swing.
The squatters said the child came from somewhere else in Brooklyn and was not part of their group.
Abiedah Powell, a 35-year-old mother of two, said she had been squatting and “skarreling” for 12 years and had lived in the park for six months after being removed by City Law Enforcement from her shack in Paarden Eiland.
“I would have never thought that this would happen to me, but it did, and I take it one day at a time,” she sobbed. “I try to keep the park clean, although some others don’t think the same as me, but we do help each other around here.”
She said she would have to help pay for utilities if she returned home and she could not afford to do so. Instead she had asked her family to look after her children.
In her shack, she has blankets to sleep on, a washing basket with her laundry, and household utensils given to her by residents.
“I would love to have a job and a home for my kids, but that is just impossible right now.”
Brooklyn residents had been kind to her and her friends, giving them food, she said.
Most of those living in the Justin Street council houses declined to comment, but one of the squatters, Lenita Marnaville, said the City had given her permission to stay at 3 Justin Street until it was demolished, and she, her boyfriend and her brother, Craig Kroné, had been cleaning the property.
Mr Kroné said he cleaned the property daily and was not a drug addict.
“I don’t know what the people have against us living here, but we are happy to have some sort of a roof over our heads. Don’t judge a book by its cover. We are good people,” he said.
Justin Kumlehn, the chairman of the Brooklyn, Ysterplaat and Rugby Residents’ Association, said many efforts had been made to address the poor state of the park, and residents expected the authorities to act against the squatters there and in Justin Street.
“We firmly believe that the relevant by-laws established by the City should be implemented to address this matter effectively.”
Mayoral committee member for community safety and health Patricia van der Ross said the City had sought a court interdict last month to evict the park squatters, who had prevented the park from being cleaned properly.
“The park looks bad as a result of illegal occupation. Once the anticipated eviction process has been concluded and the makeshift structures are removed, proper cleaning and regular maintenance will be done.”
In a statement, the City said it had not granted permission for any squatters to live at the Justin Street properties. The houses had been occupied despite them having been boarded up.
“The City has served notices to vacate the property and has opened a case of trespassing with police,” the statement said, adding the City planned to demolish the properties.
Mr Ah-Sing and Milnerton police did not respond to questions by deadline.