Ire over rising vagrancy

Street people in Plumstead are living in tents that they have set up on open Cityowned land.

Street people in the Gabriel Road area are pitching tents, invading municipal land, stealing, littering and loitering, say Plumstead residents.

A meeting of residents and business owners last week discussed the issue.

In January, the Plumstead Neigbourhood Watch met with ward councillor Liz Brunette after a street person threatened a petrol attendant at a Gabriel Road garage with a golf club.

Residents say street people have occupied municipal land for years along Gabriel, Bardia, Doordrift, Vernon and Thorwick roads.

The residents claim the street people harass them for money and steal their house numbers and gate handles.

Now, during lockdown, tents have started popping up along Gabriel Road.

Residents say the street people draw crime to the neighbourhood, including prostitution and drug use.

Resident Judith February said they fought, defecated openly, started fires and littered, but the authorities failed to act.

“The councillors shrug their shoulders and say residents need to call the hotline. They’ve come out a few times, but nothing is really done. Surely this cannot be allowed?”

Ms Brunette was at the meeting, held at The Homestead in Plumstead on Wednesday August 5, where residents and business owners spoke about forming a homeowners’ association to tackle the growing number of vagrants.

Ms Brunette said the City’s displaced persons unit and law enforcement dealt with street people, but the law enforcement department was understaffed and had to cover many areas.

It was even more difficult for law enforcement to manage the street people during lockdown because no one could be evicted from a formal or informal dwelling under Covid-19 regulations, she said.

Anyone who felt threatened by a street person could call the City’s 24-hour public emergency call centre at 107 on a landline or 021 480 7700 on a cellphone, and it was important to get a reference number, she said.

But the residents said that when they had called the emergency number in the past, law enforcement had taken a long time to respond and street people sometimes started fires that needed to be dealt with immediately.

In January, Ms Brunette suggested residents form a civic group for the area as there wasn’t one, and it would help to regulate the problem.

Elaine Rousseau, owner of The Homestead, said it was time consuming to do that as they would have to draw up a constitution and hold meetings to nominate and elect executive committee members. Also, a lot of people complained but few were willing to volunteer when action was needed.

Gavin Green, a law enforcement officer, told the meeting street people were “here to stay” and that they often only moved around from one space to another in close areas. Many did not live in shelters because they were drug and alcohol addicts.

Law enforcement had been interdicted from forcefully removing them and businesses were giving them the tents, he said.

Law enforcement could only advise street people to move their tents if the area was unsafe, he said.

If residents set up an association, law enforcement could attend their meetings and offer help, he said.

Ms Brunette said the City had no money to fence its properties, and it would be much cheaper if the residents did it, but they would have to lease the land in order to fence it and the administrative process to arrange such a lease could take a couple of years.

Ms Rousseau said documenting the street people’s actions for evidence and making posters and leaflets discouraging people from giving them food and tents might help alleviate the problem.