Vagrancy red flag in Wood Drive

Sunningdale resident Heinz Gruber says he has had to clean this piece of City-owned land next to his home daily since vagrants started sleeping there.

A 75-year-old Sunningdale man says he is growing tired of cleaning up after vagrants in his street.

Walking hunched over with his hands behind his back, Heinz Gruber points out various grassy spots along Wood Drive, which he says have been occupied by three groups of people, including children, since December last year.

There was no sign of them when Tabletalk visited apart from what appeared to be a makeshift cardboard shelter and ashes from a small fire.

Mr Gruber’s front gate faces a grassy patch, Erf 9727, where a municipal sign warns of a R1000 fine for dumping, but shoes, underwear, bags filled with food and garbage littered the City-owned site and a stench hung in the air.

“The smell is human faeces,” said Mr Gruber, who claims to catch vagrants regularly relieving themselves there.

He said large fires were made at night on the land and he fears they could spread to his property.

“Charcoal is used to write on the walls, but we cannot chase them away,” he said.

He had twice approached the vagrants but had been threatened and asked if he was “royalty”, he said, adding that he had asked ward councillor Joy Solomon and the City for help but it had been “pointless”.

“I am not as fit as I used to be, but if I allow the area to start looking like the slums, like other parts of the community, then there will be serious problems,” he said.

In text messages between the councillor and Mr Gruber on Friday April 1, Ms Solomon says she informed the City’s solid waste department and they would attend to the site.

Mr Gruber said the solid waste team had arrived at the site on Wednesday April 20 but had been quickly chased away by a slight drizzle without doing any cleaning.

To date, nothing else had been done, he said.

Mr Gruber said he felt sorry for the vagrants and hoped they would “find their feet”, but there were shelters and they refused to use them.

Another resident, Almarie de Beer, said she walked along Wood Drive nearly every day but had never been threatened by vagrants, instead she asked them to keep the area clean.

Ms Solomon did not respond to our questions by deadline.

The City said it had allocated R142 million to run and expand City-run shelters over the next three years and a further R10 million this winter for more beds at NGO-run shelters.

City law enforcement spokesman Wayne Dyason said many City parcels of land were, unfortunately, now home to tented camps and other by-law transgressions such as dumping.

“The City’s law enforcement department works with other City departments to address these issues within the confines of the law, as outlined in the City’s post-disaster approach to helping people off the streets,” he said.

Tabletalk found evidence of a fire and what appeared to be a makeshift shelter on the City-owned land.