Homeless site closes

Homeless leave the Strandfontein Sports Complex temporary shelter in droves. The homeless were screened for the coronavirus and moved from the facility on trucks.

Lawyers for Human Rights are hard at work ensuring the last street people at the City of Cape Town’s Strandfontein temporary shelter are clear of Covid-19 and that their new residence provides the necessary services to take care of them during the national lockdown.

The site was due to be closed today, Wednesday May 20.

Yesterday, Tuesday May 19, they launched an urgent application at the Cape High Court to interdict the City from decommissioning the site, discontinuing the services provided to people living there and relocating them to another location, until there has been adequate consultation.

The lawyers represent the Strandfontein Homeless Action Committee (SHAC), which represents 162 homeless people who were rounded up and transported to the Strandfontein sports field, where the City had set up huge tents in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

About 2000 homeless people were due to be housed at the City of Cape Town’s temporary shelter site for the duration of the Covid-19 lockdown, at a cost of
R32 million.

However, last month the Strandfontein Ratepayers’ Association and Strandfontein Social and Economic Forum, also via a Cape High Court application, demanded that the site be closed – citing it as a health risk.

Lawyers for Human Rights acting national director, Michael Clements, said they were disappointed that they would have to “resort to court to ensure that the basic human rights of an already vulnerable population are respected”.

The independent, non-profit and non-governmental human rights organisation, had filed papers this morning and hoped that the matter would be heard in court urgently.

He said: “The City’s failure to provide assurances in respect of these rights has caused significant anxiety, and we will therefore ask the court to ensure that our clients’ right to be consulted about what is to happen to them in these uncertain circumstances is upheld.”

According to Carlos Mesquita, spokesman for the Homeless Action Committee on site, they will not leave until it is confirmed that they do not have Covid-19 and that their alternative residence, possibly the Culemborg space on the Foreshore in the city centre, has the necessary services.

Mr Mesquita said many of their queries have been dealt with but the City mainly started listening when the civic groups sought help at the court.

They had wanted to join that matter and inform the court as to how their human rights were not being upheld.

He also said that the intended purpose of containing the virus among street people was overlooked, especially when they would not listen to their concerns of physical distancing, the need for volunteers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and that residents who were in close contact with Covid-19 patients were not screened or in quarantine.

Mr Mesquita said they did not want street people to be stigmatised with carrying the disease and unleashed into communities spreading the virus.

“We were brought here. They took us from where we were and brought us here under the pretence of taking care of us during the pandemic. Where has the protection come in? No one has shown signs or symptoms of the virus and this is not a quarantine site.”

He said at the moment the massive tent had 150 to 180 residents, a noticeable reduction of the 600 people it had a few weeks ago.

Mr Mesquita said the main reason people had “escaped” in the earlier days was that they did not have access to a bank facility or shop to buy food, toiletries or transfer money to their dependants.

“We could not access our social grant money. I have not had a razor for all of the time I have been here.”

He said they were told to leave their stuff, wherever they were found on the streets.

Mr Mesquita said residents were leaving the site in groups but no one was being tested.

He said a woman who tested positive had been part of a group of other residents, who were taken to a private institution to be tested. She was the only positive case.

“We are not moving anywhere. Lockdown has not been lifted for us. We need to know where we are going and to which circumstances,” he said.

Today Wednesday May 20 the City was due to shut the shelter. They were also due in the High Court for another matter pursuant of their interdict application against the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

According to a council media statement, the City was informed that a person, who moved off-site to a smaller shelter, had tested positive for Covid-19.

Dr Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said in keeping with all protocols, this asymptomatic individual was screened at least three times by City health officials.

He said the results of these screenings were negative. A test conducted by a non-governmental organisation at a private facility found a positive result.

He said City health was assisting the NGO with case management at the shelter, and in the process of tracking and monitoring others who were transferred to other facilities during this period.

“The individual is currently in isolation and remains asymptomatic,” Dr Badroodien said.

Dr Badroodien said they are aware of the “misinformation” being shared by an appointed SAHRC monitor.

“The monitor has once again failed to consult with the City to verify the information prior to distributing the report to other organisations. The City must dispel this misrepresentation of the facts and will impress the necessity to follow the necessary protocols when screening and testing all individuals. It is irresponsible for this monitor to create ill-informed mass hysteria.”

Last week the City filed an interdict against the SAHRC and its monitors – barring them from the site; accusing them of inciting violence; intimidating staff on site; and disseminating false reports before reporting it to the City.

Dr Badroodien confirmed that the site was due to close today but would likely remain active for a few days afterwards.

“The City is guided by expert medical and environmental health inputs provided by City health officials. Homeless individuals who have specific medical concerns are encouraged to visit the daily clinic where we have a total of 12 health staff which include nurses, doctors and pharmacists on site to assist with any of their concerns.

“In respect of the protocols around Covid-19, daily symptom screenings are being conducted among the identified contacts. However, most are refusing to be screened for daily symptom monitoring,” he said.