Tough talk at imbizo

Deon Booysen who sleeps on the street in the Parklands area has a one-on-one with Warrent Officer Niki Knoetzen.

Ward 23 held its first imbizo for homeless people last week to engage with the City of Cape Town and various law enforcement agencies on the way forward.

The ward consists of Melkbosstrand, Big Bay, Blaauwbergstrand, BloubergSands,Sunningdale (north of Baywood Road and Buckingham Road), Blouberg Rise (west of Otto du Plessis Drive, east of Watsonia Road, north of Viola Road), West Beach, Bloubergrant, Table View (west of Dolphin Drive, Watsonia Road and Coral Road, south of, and including, the Infinity complex up to the coastline, north of Marine Circle and Viola Road) and Table View (south of Dipidax Road, east of Watsonia and north of Viola Road).

Hosted by Ward 23 councillor Nora Grose in partnership with non-profit organisation TLC, the imbizo, on Friday September 8, was aimed at helping homeless people with, among other things, IDs, birth certificates and social grants.

It was also a platform for open talks between the homeless, the City and police.

Also attending the imbizo were the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), the City’s social development and early childhood development department, the Street People Unit, the police, law enforcement and the Department of Home Affairs.

Ms Grose welcomed around 120 homeless people, who were bused in from the beachfront, Parklands, Happy Valley and Olive Close, and assured them that they were in a safe environment to raise their concerns and needs.

“Today we want you to feel comfortable to speak about your needs. The various departments here today are here for your benefit. Take this opportunity to sit and discuss your challenges,” said Ms Grose.

She said some issues could not be “resolved overnight” but that they would try their best to tackle the ones that could.

Table View Sector 2 commander Warrant Officer Niki Knoetzen said there needed to be mutual respect between the police and the homeless.

A homeless man told Warrant Officer Knoetzen that he had been attacked by a police officer with a pickaxe and asked if that was right.

Warrant Officer Knoetzen said there were bad seeds on both sides, and it was something that needed to be addressed.

He stressed that it was important for homeless people to keep their areas clean and that it was a crime to steal trolleys.

A homeless woman stood up and asked why the police were verbally abusive. Close to tears, the woman said, “Police need to realise being attacked verbally affects our rehabilitation”.

Deon Booysen, who sleeps on the streets in Parklands, had a gripe with foreigners in the area.

“Somalis are here for a few years only, and they get pavements to sell things. We’re here for 18 years already and we have nothing,” said Mr Booysen.

TLC founder Colleen Pietersen said the imbizo was the first of its kind for the Blaauwberg area and that Ms Grose and her team had done a great job.

“Many of the homeless could voice their concerns about the way they are treated, and law enforcement informed them about their rights and what was expected of them. Everybody was sorted with IDs, birth certificates and Sassa papers for their children’s grants. They were also introduced to the independent living plan skills centre that TLC has just launched, which includes basic electrical, basic plumbing and basic welding training, as well as getting learners and drivers licenses.”

Ms Grose said they had only expected about 70 homeless people but were happy that more had arrived.

“I believe we won the trust of many, and I know the road ahead is not going to be easy, but we will measure the success in six months’ time. Now the hard work starts, as we engage them with programmes that can help them change their lives. I am very delighted and know this vision can make a difference and cannot come to fruition without participants,” said Ms Grose.

Jolene Page, from the Table View Neigbourhood Watch (TVNW), said they were aware of the imbizo but could not comment on it as they had not been invited to take part.

“TVNW would like to see a proper operational and well-run shelter closer to our area sooner than later where these people can be sent instead of sleeping in our parks and open spaces,” said Ms Page.

Parklands Neighbourhood Watch (PNW) chairman Gary le Roux said this “type of approach is far overdue”.

“This is an issue that is not going to go away, so we need to manage the problem rather than trying to get rid of it”.

Mr Le Roux agreed that a homeless shelter was needed in the area.

“We would like to see a shelter go up in a central point where the homeless will want to spend the night with a warm bed and food to eat. At the same time, we understand that some vagrants, after speaking with them over the years, state they are not really interested in something like this because they don’t want all the rules that go along with an idea like this and that some vagrants have opted out of the society norm,” he said.

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