Vagrants have returned to Phoenix’s Democracy Park after a fire destroyed their shelters there.
The fire on Sunday April 11 destroyed 10 shelters in the park, but the vagrants have since rebuilt them.
Phoenix residents like Joseph Meyer say the situation at the park is dangerous for both the vagrants and the rest of the community. Mr Meyer fears an illness could break out at the vagrants’ camp and spread to the rest of the community.
“We’ve had a number of fires there which is so dangerous for everyone involved. With Covid still a problem, there could be an outbreak there and we could see lots of people dying,” he said.
Amanda Kemp, of the Phoenix Ratepayers’ Association, said most of the vagrants in the park came from good homes but they all had a drug problem.
“It’s difficult to get help for someone who doesn’t want any,” she said. “A lot of them are from the surrounding areas and have families but choose to stay on the streets because their families, of course, won’t allow them to use drugs. I’m concerned because there have been two of them that have died of Covid already and they have babies there.”
Phoenix Neighbourhood Watch chairman Russel Capes said they realised Covid-19 regulations prevented the City from moving the vagrants, but the City also wasn’t keeping track of those who had occupied the park.
“It’s a big concern at the moment, and we are working with law enforcement to find a solution. It’s difficult to keep track of how many people there are there,” he said.
Ward 4 councillor Wandisile Ngeyi echoed those sentiments saying, “The vagrants on Democracy Park are many and they settled there with their families, which adds to the difficult nature of the situation.”
Dr Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said the issue had been handed over to City law enforcement when illegal occupants had built shelters on the land and removed more than R300 000 worth of park equipment in July last year.
“There are ongoing engagements with multiple stakeholders, including City law enforcement and economic development, about the management of the site. The City’s street people unit visits hot-spot areas on an ongoing basis, offering street people access to social and medical services, and either shelter placement or reintegration into their communities. Unfortunately, these offers are voluntary, and experience has shown that many street people refuse offers of assistance.”