Court to rule on shelter’s future

Homeless people, from areas like Culemborg and Muizenberg, are screened after they were bused in to Strandfontein sports field by the City of Cape Town this week.

The urgent Cape High Court application by Strandfontein Ratepayers’ Association (SRA) and the Strandfontein Social and Economic Development Forum (SSEDF) to have the City of Cape Town’s temporary homeless shelter at their local sports complex decentralised will be heard tomorrow, Thursday April 30.

The City had until the end of business yesterday, Tuesday April 28, to file their responding papers after attorney Vernon Seymour, acting for the civic groups, served a notice of motion, affidavits and annexes on Sunday April 26.

Richard Bosman, the City’s director for safety and security, said: “The City received the papers and it is currently considering its position.”

The notice confirmed that the application would be heard as a matter of urgency tomorrow.

Judge Taswell Papier will have to decide whether to close the shelter within seven days of his order; and that services are decentralised for smaller homeless shelters in the city, closer to where the “homeless people originated”.

The court will also be asked to direct the City to make all “necessary logistical arrangements to effect such a transfer”, read the notice.

Affidavits by Amanda van Willingh, secretary of the forum, and Mario Oostendurp, chairman of the SRA, have been filed (“Groups want shelter to be closed”, Plainsman, April 22).

They also received a letter of support from Pelican Heights Civic Association.

A representative of the Pelican Heights community, serving on the oversight committee set up to review the activities at the camp, made some observations including: unsatisfactory living conditions, which could increase the spread of Covid-19; that up to 600 people were living in a tent, “which could be a breeding ground for diseases”; and that not all street people were tested before being bused to the camp, where they were only screened on arrival at the site for Covid-19.

“This increases the risk of spreading a disease like Covid-19 or even tuberculosis (TB),” read the letter.

The letter signed by Mogamat Panday, chairman of Pelican Heights Civic Association, on behalf of all residents in Pelican Heights, also said that there were insufficient medical professionals on site to cope with an unplanned Covid-19 breakout.

“Any mass gathering, such as the situation at Strandfontein, created a high risk and threatened the health and well-being of the homeless as well as the Strandfontein and surrounding communities and is in violation of the national disaster measures.

“We, the residents of Pelican Heights, fully support the call for the camp to be closed down and for the homeless to be accommodated in smaller sites across the city,” read the letter.

A supporting affidavit by Dr Gilles van Cutsem, a senior HIV and TB advisor for Medécins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Southern African Medical Unit and an honorary research associate at the Centre for infectious disease epidemiology and research of the University of Cape Town, has also been filed.

Dr Van Cutsem visited the site on Saturday April 11 as an independent expert as requested by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), as part of an assessment team on health conditions at the shelter.

He returned to the site on Thursday April 16 to meet with Dr Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health.

On Thursday April 23 Dr Van Cutsem was back there, at the request of the SAHRC to participate in a briefing with Tina Joemat-Pettersson, chairwoman of South Africa’s national portfolio committee for police, to oversee that State parties and national preventative mechanisms relating to the Covid-19 pandemic are adhered to as in relation to the United Nations’ Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT).

Dr Cutsem said several changes following their initial visit were made but were insufficient to decrease the risks to the health of the residents. “The conditions at the shelter remain sub-standard with regards to infection prevention and control, access to and quality of health care, as well as care for vulnerable subgroups,” he concluded.

The application was filed against the City and Mayor Dan Plato.

Mr Plato maintains that the site was set up following the lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa as a means to help flatten the curve and prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“I am pleased to say that all individuals on site are receiving excellent care, including warm showers, ablution facilities, and laundry services; three meals a day with food and snacks in-between; medical assistance; separate isolation tents for those identified with TB; blankets, pillows and mattresses; and vanity packs, including soap, facecloth, toothbrush and toothpaste.”

He said it was most unfortunate that the site was so “shamefully politicised”.

“This has not deterred us as we continue to look after the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Last week the Department of Defence did an oversight visit and remarked that the accommodation tents were neatly erected and well-spaced across the sports field.

The department noted that music was played during the evenings and that the site was peaceful. It was also mentioned that the officials conducting the oversight visit observed personnel sanitising the area, and acknowledged that homeless people were screened for Covid-19 and TB upon arrival at the site, and that any person testing positive, was isolated in separate tents.

Mr Plato said they would be engaging the Department of Home Affairs about sorting out identity documents.

While the City has already reunited a number of homeless people with their families, it was recommended that the Department of Social Development look at possible family location opportunities.

“They have an opportunity to do self-upliftment and empowerment programmes, which we welcome.”

The department will also investigate the possibility of other military veterans resident at the site, after man enquired about support for military veterans and provide assistance where possible.

Mr Plato thanked the Department of Defence for acknowledging and commending the co-ordinators, service providers, and site manager for the good service being provided to the most vulnerable individuals in our society and for complimenting the manner in which the venue was being managed.