An incident in which a street person threatened a Plumstead petrol attendant with a golf club points to a growing vagrancy problem in the neighbourhood, say residents and businesses.
Following the encounter at the Shell Auto Garage in Gabriel Road, earlier this month, the Plumstead Neighbourhood Watch called for a meeting with Ward 62 councillor Liz Brunette to discuss what it feels is a growing number of street people in the area.
The common refrain at the meeting last Thursday was: “What can we legally do to move street people away from the area?”
Residents say vagrants have been illegally occupying City-owned open spaces in Plumstead over the years, especially Gabriel Road, Bardia Road, Doordrift Road, Vernon Road and Thorwick Road.
The vagrants harass them for money and steal their house numbers and gate handles, they claim.
Shell Garage manager Andre Basson told the meeting that the vagrant who had threatened the petrol attendant two weeks earlier had wanted water at the garage. The incident was caught on CCTV. There were no injuries and the case was not reported to the police, but the incident has angered residents and business owners.
“They seem to think that the garage is a public facility and that they can use the water. It is not,” Mr Basson said.
Plumstead residents say the vagrants attract crime, including prostitution and drug use.
One of the residents at the meeting said the vagrants were frequently drunk; were aggressive when confronted; had sex in public; and urinated openly, exposing their genitals.
“We have spent more than we can afford on making our home safe,” said the woman who did not want her name published. She said she feared for the safety of her children and was reluctant to let them out of the house.
“We are under siege from people who are being supported for breaking the law.”
Ms Brunette told the residents it was illegal for them to forcefully remove any street people.
“By law, you can’t remove someone forcefully from one location to another. You also can’t remove their belongings such as ID books, or any of their belongings because it could be important. It could be their medical documents.”
The City’s displaced persons unit and law enforcement dealt with street people, she said, but the law enforcement department was understaffed and had to cover a lot of areas.
“A big part of the problem is obviously that they’re there in the first place,” she said.
Members of the public who felt threatened by a vagrant 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 residents said that when they had called the emergency number in the past, law enforcement had taken a long time to respond. Vagrants sometimes started fires that needed to be dealt with immediately, they said.
Ms Brunette suggested residents form a civic group for the area as there wasn’t one, and she appealed to them to work with the City to resolve the issue of vagrancy.
“I do not have a solution to the problem,” she said.