Nadia’s home is immaculate. The area around it is also clean. Her boyfriend collects litter nearby and adds it to a pile. Another man collects plastic and puts it into his trolley.
Nadia, not her real name, lives in the stairwell under Victoria Road bridge in Plumstead.
She says she has a house but has lived under the bridge for two decades because it is better than living in the house where her parents died.
Her boyfriend has a job, a house, but she does not want to live with him. She feeds her sisters daughter’s dog, Max. Her sister also died.
Nadia says she is known to the neighbourhood watch. They come sometimes, shine a torch in her “home” and tell her that other people are making problems.
Ursula Schenker, a Plumstead community worker and deputy chairperson of the Plumstead Community Forum, says vagrants living under Victoria Road bridge are a threat to rail commuters walking in the lane to or from the station, children at nearby Khanyisa Waldorf School and shoppers at the Checkers Centre. The area was filthy and could attract rats.
The Passenger Rail Agency South Africa (PRASA) was not working with SAPS, the CPF, City law enforcement or councillors Carol Bew and Kevin Southgate to tackle the problems on its property, she said.
Eddie Andrews, area south Mayco member, said that although it was Prasa’s responsibility to secure its property and keep it clean, the City’s law enforcement and social development departments had removed illegal shelters on the site and offered assistance to the squatters. Clean-up had also been done by the solid waste department.
The City had been unable to get Prasa to take action, he said.
Diep River police spokesperson Constable Zak Marais, said they did regular clean-ups with law enforcement and neighbourhood watches along and close to the railway stations and tracks. “But due to the intensive logistics required to carry out these operations, we cannot do this every day.”
Thania Wilson-Harris, chairperson of Plumstead Neighbourhood Watch (PNW), also said Prasa had been no help tackling the problems under the bridge. PNW helped with clean-ups in the area at least once a month, she said. “Within a couple of hours the vagrants have moved back there.”
The vagrants had all declined offers of help from social services, she said.
Anne Hathway, of Khanyisa Waldorf School, said some of their pupils relied on trains but felt “vulnerable” passing the people under the bridge on the way to or from the station so many chose to take a longer route along Victoria, Main and Cecil roads that”exposes them to the busy traffic”.
Riana Scott, the spokeswoman for Metrorail, Prasa’s passenger-rail service, said they couldn’t cope with the growing numbers of homeless people occupying their vacant land or rail reserves.
“Vacant Prasa property has been documented and efforts are made to either lease or develop these, depending on each property’s zoning and land use,” she said.
Fences were frequently vandalised and squatters could only be evicted after a lengthy legal process, she said.
“Many homeless people choose to live on the streets and refuse assistance because they are addicted to drugs or other harmful substances or prefer living on the streets due to housing and/or family problems. With the assistance of SAPS, arrests are made but people are released soon afterwards and the spiral starts anew.”
Residents can report vagrancy to the City’s displaced people’s unit at 021 596 1999, or 0800 225 669 all hours.