Fed up with ‘rough sleepers’

Several homeless people sleep over night on the steps of the Woodstock Townhall.

The staircase of the Woodstock Town Hall has become an overnight spot for homeless people seeking refuge from the elements – much to the dissatisfaction of locals.

Parents taking their children to the town hall park are particularly upset.

Shanawaaz Henry from Woodstock contacted the Tatler last week to complain about the condition of the park, saying many of the homeless people actually slept on the doorstep of the Woodstock Town Hall at night, with evidence such as blankets, mattresses, bags of clothing and even rotting food confirming Ms Henry’s statement.

“People are not supposed to live this way,’ she said.

“They sleep at the town hall at night and move over to the park during the day when the hall is being used. They get up to all sorts of things inside the park, but they remain in the park, as their sleeping spot is right opposite,” she said.

On Wednesday February 21, Ms Henry witnessed an altercation between two homeless people inside the park. She claims they are “regulars” who sleep at the town hall.

“Both of them were extremely drunk and this man kept throwing things at this woman. I bring my child to the park every day before we head home and this is a very sorry sight for our children. Somebody needs to get rid of these people before this area turns into the new squatter camp of Woodstock,” Ms Henry said.

Anthony Nolan said he was shocked to see the number of people sleeping on the doorstep of the town hall and called on the City of Cape Town to address the problem.

Mr Nolan said he recently chatted with one of the homeless people, who is originally from the Eastern Cape. He learnt that the man chased after a job opportunity six years ago in Cape Town, but when he arrived, there was no job and he had already spent every last cent on his travelling.

“It’s a sad story actually, as it sounds like this man only came here to work for his family. Over the years, he obviously got caught up in some stuff, with alcohol abuse high on that list, but these are still human beings sleeping on a council-owned property. What are they doing about this?” Mr Nolan asked.

The City’s fieldworkers are aware of seven homeless people “sleeping rough” around the town hall who were offered assistance on a number of occasions and refused the help at the time.

Ward councillor Dave Bryant said he has not received any direct complaints about the “rough sleepers” in the past six months, but had received a request for social assistance in August last year, which had been followed up by fieldworkers.

“If rough sleepers are found to be in contravention of City by-laws, this can have a serious impact on members of the surrounding community and law enforcement are then mandated to assist,” he said.

“We must remember that most rough sleepers require a great deal of regular assistance to help them to improve their lives. Many rough sleepers have challenges relating to addiction and come from broken homes and we cannot use enforcement alone to solve social issues.”

The City said there are around 800 people sleeping rough in Ward 115 and their teams are doing their best to work with them as much as possible to find longer-term solutions.

“I will request that this area gets special attention from our social teams over the coming weeks,” Mr Bryant said.

Mr Bryant maintained that the group of “rough sleepers” were not found to be in direct contravention of any City by-laws during inspections. “I have noted the concerns around public drinking and riotous behaviour and any member of the public who is concerned that City by-laws are being contravened should contact law enforcement,” Mr Bryant said. He said it was important to note that no agency could compel a person to move into a shelter unless they agree to do so.

Residents can report illicit activities to the City’s law enforcement department on 021 596 1999 or report criminal behaviour to the Woodstock police station.