The controversial Strandfontein shelter for the homeless in Cape Town will be subjected to a “phased closure”, the City of Cape Town’s mayco member for community services and health, Zahid Badroodien, said ahead of the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
“The Strandfontein temporary shelter was always just a temporary intervention,” added Badroodien on Thursday.
On Friday, the country will move to level 4 of the coronavirus lockdown with slightly more movement allowed, and the fate of those who have been living in tents on Strandfontein sports ground is not clear yet.
“We have indicated on several occasions that it would be closing. We are at pains to point out that the phased closure is not because of pressure from any particular grouping.
“As of today, no more people will be taken in at Strandfontein. Those who require further assistance will be helped at smaller shelters which are currently being prepared. We envision that the site will be empty by 20 May 2020.”
The City hastily erected the shelter in line with Disaster Management Act regulations that homeless people be moved to shelters in March.
It was criticised from several quarters on its layout, restrictions on movement, and not allowing visitors in.
The head of the Western Cape Department of Social Development, Dr Robert Macdonald, said at a special portfolio committee meeting on Thursday legislation that was passed nationally to address the question of homeless people during the lockdown was not clear about which agency of government was responsible for doing that.
It is also not clear when the residents of temporary shelters are allowed to leave, and under what circumstances.
Regulations regarding other centres such as shelters for victims of gender-based violence, or people receiving treatment for substance abuse were clear: people could not leave or receive visitors, or be reunited with their families.
The approach to the homeless was less clear.
Macdonald said health authorities were concerned about putting so many people together given that the general approach for the lockdown was to “de-congregate”.
This was one of the reasons why the police did not want to let people in and out of the shelter freely – to curb the spread of the virus.
Social workers visited Strandfontein during the lockdown, and so far about 800 people have indicated they wanted to carry on living in a shelter.
They also looked into the rape of a woman at the shelter when it opened.
The national Department of Social Development is providing food through a national tender, and the provincial department is providing psychosocial support to those who need it.
The City is running it at present, but in the meantime, the SA Local Government Association wants to know who exactly is responsible for it.
“Legislation for the lockdown is silent on the government’s roles and responsibilities on homeless adults,” said Macdonald.
Generally, it costs the department about R2,300 per bed per month to shelter a homeless person.
In the meantime, Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato rejected complaints and reports the homeless had been mistreated, saying the “decommissioning” would go ahead.
Details on where people will be moved to were not immediately available.