Squatting and vagrancy on a vacant piece of land in Woodstock is drawing crime and anti-social behaviour to the neighbourhood, say residents.
Douglas Place is nestled behind Victoria Road, surrounded by business and homes, but vagrants have been building makeshift shelters around a field there.
A woman living near the illegal dwellings said no sooner would the squatters be removed by law enforcement, then they would be back to set up a new camp.
“I have passed on these complaints to our local police, who then get Metro police and law enforcement involved, but the problem is that the land actually just stands open and these people end up coming right back to where they once were. There are times people end up getting arrested, and then, in a few days time, they will return.”
The woman did not want her name published as she feared reprisals for speaking out.
“I was on my way to the shop one day, and I saw a man speaking to one of the women regularly seen working in this area. When I returned, they were parked in a secluded section and both were on the backseat. No shame, nothing. If I was able to see this, how many more people came across this before?”
On Thursday May 3, law enforcement tore down shelters and removed 12 people from the Douglas Place site, but residents fear they will soon return.
Another resident, Irshaad Jacobs, urged the community to stand together to confront the issue.
“It seems like everywhere you go, people are trying to grab land and then claiming it is theirs. We understand everybody needs proper housing, but there are people who end up abusing that, by getting involved with all sorts of activities that end up giving Woodstock a bad name.”
Mr Jacobs said drugs had also become a problem in the area.
“I once asked boys coming from school where I could quickly buy dagga, and they all pointed me in the direction of the shacks… So, if our children know where to find a problem, why is that our police or City have not stumbled across this problem before?”
The City wants to use Douglas Place for social housing and has handed the site over to the non-profit Social Housing Company (SOHCO). This after the City launched the new inner-city social housing initiative last September, making City land available to the private sector for the development of affordable and social housing in Woodstock, Salt River and the inner-city.
Ward councillor Dave Bryant said he had been trying to solve the problems at Douglas Place by requesting ongoing solid-waste and law-enforcement operations. “I have personally visited the site on a number of occasions and have met with local residents,” he said.
He had also had reports of vehicles being abandoned there.
Woodstock police spokesman, Sergeant Hilton Malila, said officers visited the area daily and had arrested or fined people for drinking in public.
“We don’t know of any prostitution or drug peddling that takes place, but we can investigate those allegations.”
What was happening at Douglas Place was part of the “huge vagrancy problem” in the precinct, Sergeant Malila said.
“Vagrancy, unfortunately, is not a criminal offence, so we can’t arrest them for being a vagrant. We are also being assisted by law enforcement officers who also from time to time issue fines for drinking in public. If they transgress any law, we do act accordingly.”
He urged residents to report criminal activity on the field.
“We will on a continuous basis make random turns at the site in order to maintain law and order,” Sergeant Malila said.
SOHCO did not respond to requests for comment by the time this edition went to print.
Residents can call City law enforcement at 021 596 1999 to report anti-social activities at the site.