Shacks up in Summer Greens

One of the homeless men, who identified himself only as Hugo, said he lived in a tent before.

An open piece of City-owned land between Summer Greens and the N7 is fast becoming a headache for the suburb’s neighbourhood watch.

When Tabletalk visited the field last Thursday with Summer Greens Neighbourhood Watch (SGNW) chairman Reagan Croeser and SGNW member Steven Stenekamp, at least five homeless people were found living there.

A shack made of plastic and other materials had been built against Summer Greens’ boundary wall behind Gretna Green Street.

Mr Croeser, who has been keeping a close eye on the field, said the shack belonged to a man named Christopher who claimed to have been living in Summer Greens for 18 years.

“We reported this in January already to law enforcement, and every time they say they are going to break it down, but we have had no luck,” said Mr Croeser.

He said that two months ago they had taken law enforcement to the spot where they had inspected the shack and reported it to their control room.

“They said they would return the next day to clean up the spot but they didn’t.”

About two weeks ago, Mr Croeser found another couple living there who were “sub-letting” from Christopher.

On Thursday morning, Christopher refused to come out of his shack when Tabletalk and the SGNW were there.

Mr Croeser was surprised to see two more new faces on the field. The one, who only wanted to be identified as Hugo, has been sleeping next to the shack under plastic sheeting for the last few days.

He said he had lived in a tent a few metres away until about eight months ago when it had been burnt down and he had been arrested. He refused to say what he had been arrested for.

“When I was released from Pollsmoor, I had no place to go, and all my belongings were gone. It’s actually better inside prison than outside. You don’t have to worry about food and a place to stay,” said Hugo.

A Gretna Green Street resident said she feared for her safety. The woman, who did not want to be named for fear of being targeted, lives a few metres from the shack, and her wall is low enough for passers-by to see into her backyard.

“The field stinks and they are noisy. When we are in the kitchen, they see us. Law enforcement has been here a few times, but they just return,” she said.

A few metres away, Michael Blom sits up in his bed, resting his back against a pylon. Two pairs of crutches are propped up next to him. The elderly man sleeps under an open sky at night with only a blanket to protect him from the cold.

There is another man who shares the pylon with him, and Mr Blom points out his empty mattress.

“I used to live in Joe Slovo, but my knee started swelling up, and I couldn’t work anymore,” said Mr Blom.

Asked if he was scared of sleeping under a pylon, he said he had no choice.

At another spot on the field, Mr Croeser pointed to a large hole dug into the sand. “They cover the holes up and sleep in them,” he said.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said the City knew about about the homeless people on the field.

“A site visit was conducted on Tuesday April 25. Officers found one plastic makeshift dwelling erected on an open field along the N7 highway, behind Gretna Green Street in Summer Greens. An intervention will be scheduled to remove the unlawful structure. Law enforcement has dealt with this issue in the past, and the area has been clear for quite some time,” said Mr Smith.

He said the City relied on the public to report by-law infringements by dialling 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.