Homeless debate

Peter Stenslunde, Constantia

I read your article on street people with interest (“Homeless on the agenda”, Constantiaberg Bulletin, April 28).

People claim to be born here but that gives them no right to defacate in public and in public spaces – that is a by-law infringement.

You will also find that begging, sleeping in parks, urinating in public, being drunk and walking on a road, utilising supermarket trolleys as mobile backpacks are also law enforcement infringements.

The Displaced People’s Unit is so understaffed, unco-ordinated and under-funded it is no surprise that they cannot keep up with the ever-growing needs of residents to control street people – indeed, their budget is 20 times smaller than just the communications budget of the City of Cape Town – go figure how that works.

The City will give you a long winded reply as to how things are “improving” but the reality is otherwise.

More importantly, the law enforcement department (law enforcement, traffic services, Metro police, fire, emergency and disaster risk management and the public emergency call centre all fall under the safety and security directorate headed up by JP Smith), which is responsible for enforcement and policing of by-laws is equally as underfunded, overworked and under resourced.

So much so that did you know that Constantia residents fund their own two Law Enforcement vehicles themselves?

Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, at a time when teenage girls are getting murdered in our own backyards (Tokai/ Khayelitsha), it has been discovered that the safety and security directorate have 44% of their entire annual income generated in the form of various fines (majority traffic) – simply written off.

At a time when residents are being asked to pay another 10 percent increase in rates as of July 1 (the City claims six percent but when you take the recent increased valuations and use the new multiplier the effective increase is far more for neighbourhoods like Constantia – Constantia already contributes R144 million a year in rates, R25 million in terms of the fuel levy and R30 million by way of City margins on services). Residents need to understand just where their money is being spent and the waste that is currently being exposed.

It is a complete and utter disgrace that billions of rands in the last say five years have simply been written off from the safety and security directorate – and if it is getting better like we are told, why then are the forecasts for the next two years the same – R740 million written off.

I do believe that residents will be most interested to know this.

JP Smith, Mayoral committee member for safety and security, responds:

It is correct that urinating or defecating in public, building a structure in a public place, and being drunk in public are by-law offences.

However, begging, sleeping in parks, and using a shopping market trolley to transport belongings are not as these items received very limited support from the general public during the public participation process on the draft Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances By-law which was passed on September 28, 2007.

The author also misunderstands the job of the Displaced People’s Unit (DPU). By-law enforcement is the responsibility of all City enforcement agencies. The Displaced People’s Unit is there to profile the frequent and prolific offenders on the streets, work with the City’s social development department to try and achieve the reintegration of street people, and ensure that the cases are channelled into the criminal justice system rather than just cleaning up hotspots, only for the same offenders to create a mess there again within an hour. That said, there is no action taken by any officer in a uniform that will stop homelessness. Only a social worker or social development programme can achieve that, which is why the City is increasingly prioritising resources to social development.

It is true that we could do with more safety and security resources, but we are competing with critical needs in other City departments. This is why, while continuing to push for more staff, we have also done what we can to develop resources through partnerships and volunteers, in the form of our rent-a-cop and law enforcement auxiliary services. The Law Enforcement vehicles referred to are not for law enforcement as the writer claims but were sponsored by the Constantia Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) for the auxiliary service officers – all of whom were recruited as police reservists from the neighbourhood watch.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the safety and security directorate doesn’t benefit from the revenue income to the City budget deriving from traffic fines. Whether every fine is paid or no fines are paid, the budget for the directorate stays the same. It is true that many traffic offenders escape the consequences of their actions because of the lack of resources at the courts.

From 2

These are operated by the national government.

However, the City is paying for additional magistrates, requires proof of address for annual vehicle registration renewals so that we can track down offenders who ignore their fines, and we recently signed an agreement with the sheriffs of the court to help execute warrants.

We have also successfully used the admin mark functionality on the eNatis system to ensure that those with outstanding traffic warrants cannot renew their vehicle registration or driving licences.

I am fairly confident that Cape Town will continue to see a steady improvement in the traffic fine repayment rate – as has been the case in the last few years. This will allow us to continue to create safer roads as there is a direct correlation between road safety (Cape Town is the only city in South Africa which has seen a reduction in the road deaths year-on-year) and the fine repayment rate (Cape Town has the highest fine repayment rate in the country). Our new K78 Roadblock Unit and dashboard cameras in traffic vehicles will increasingly allow us to catch up with scofflaws who seek to avoid facing the consequences for their reckless and unsafe driving behaviour.

I can assure you that there is no wastage in the operations of the safety and security enforcement services and where residents identify such, we are keen to hear about it so that we can take action.

With all that said, I appreciate the writer’s concern about the budget for the safety and security directorate. As the mayoral committee member, I make annual submissions for additional budget, as do all departments in the City. I would ask that the public make use of the public participation process around the City budget annually, as very few comments are received in support of additional budget for safety and security. If every person who raised such issues with me in letters, emails and public meetings made a submission on the budget, it would create a powerful imperative for additional resources.