Field of bad dreams

Portland residents are concerned that the field close to their home is a haven for criminals.

Residents of Westminster Road, Portland, want a field to be fenced in because it has become a haven for criminals and a hot spot for drug dealing, sex and storing drugs.

Police and City officials, however, say they have no evidence of criminal activity taking place there.

The field borders the back of Christ The Mediator Anglican Church and Alliance Francaise, which are in Wall Street, Portland.

Residents Rochelle Edson and Bevil Lakay said they have long lists of reference numbers, having reported their concerns to Law Enforcement and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

In the past year they have met with Ward 79 councillor Solomon Philander, sent emails to mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith, mayoral committee member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien, and head of Street People for the City’s directorate of community services and health, Lorraine Frost.

Ms Edson said she cannot sleep at night because the drain just outside her window is opened and closed by people storing their belongings in it.

“The other day we had the City’s solid waste management department come out to clean the drain, which was overflowing,” she said.

“Out of it came drugs, clothing and stowed away belongings,” she said.

Ms Edson said she was grateful for the help received by the Weltevreden Sewerage Depot, who helped with the closure of some drains last month.

She said the field appeared to be clear but sometimes people camped out there.

In an email she asked for Law Enforcement to make a turn when the “tents” went up.

In an email response to the residents, Ms Frost said: “The reintegration unit visited the site yesterday; no structures were found at the time, however, four people were found to be using drugs in the area. Social assistance was offered, all refused.”

Her department referred the matter to Law Enforcement for intervention.

Mr Lakay said the City had installed a chicken mesh-type fence but it had been destroyed in a fire. He said a few months ago the residents had engaged Mr Philander, but no action was taken.

“We discussed whether the field should be converted into a park but felt that it would be futile because it would just be a place for vagrants to occupy the space again,” he said.

“We are not naive to wish them away as we do realise that they are humans too, but if there are social interventions that can be proposed and acted upon speedily, we are open to those suggestions,” he said.

Mr Lakay said the criminal activities had been reported on numerous occasions to SAPS and Law Enforcement, which have all been logged, but to no avail.

He said the community was also at fault because they were enabling the settlement by giving food to the homeless people living on the field.

“The City is making it possible for crime to be performed as well as an informal settlement to be erected,” he said.

Mr Lakay said residents wanted to stress that it was not homeless people living on the field but criminals using the field for their gain.

“Whether this is an issue of vagrancy or crime, it is an indisputable fact that this vacant land, owned by the City, is a catalyst for these activities,” said Mr Lakay.

Church warden Brian February said he had sent a long email to the City, which would be addressed at a meeting with Wolfgat sub-council chairman Sheval Arendse on Friday April 5.

Mr Philander said he had received many emails in the past and had attended to the complaints.

“In my capacity as ward councillor I allocated the balance of a fencing budget (from Trafalgar Park) to fence the field with mesh wire.

“The community asked for a wall but I did not agree with the request as the church grounds has fence and barbed wire, however people jumped the fence and lived on the church grounds,” he said.

He said after consultation with the church and the community the following had been agreed:

A memorandum of understanding between City parks, the church and the community was signed, with each stakeholder agreeing to take ownership of the land;

The church would erect signboards warning that trespassing was illegal;

That in the past requests from the community had resulted in social development’s street people project and Law Enforcement conducting operations on the field; and

City parks would assist the community if they needed support.

The City’s executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman confirmed receipt of the complaints about the field and that they had responded on three consecutive days at different times.

“On the first occasion two men were found on the field. They denied sleeping on the field and we had no evidence to the contrary,” he said.

“They were not committing any type of offence that contravened a by-law.”

Mr Bosman said on the other two visits to the same location, officers found no one at the site.

“Law Enforcement has patrolled the area as part of routine patrols but no unlawful activity has occurred during the patrols,” he said.

Mr Bosman said if the matter was referred to them by the Department of Social Development, then the intervention from their side would be to prosecute those found doing drugs on the field. “However, as stated earlier it has not occurred in our presence,” he said.

Captain Ian Williams, spokesman for Mitchell’s Plain police station, said they know of two brothers who live on the field but could not confirm any criminal activity taking place there.