Street people in Grassy Park have welcomed a plan to temporarily relocate them during the national lockdown.
After President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the implementation of a 21-day national lockdown to slow down the spread of Covid-19, the City said it would temporarily provide shelter to some of the city’s most vulnerable people and have subsequently moved street people to sites on the Foreshore and in Bellville.
A third location was later announced as a central service centre at the Strandfontein sports ground which will house more than 2 000 street people and since Sunday April 5 several people had been moved there for the duration of the national lockdown.
Zahid Badroodien, the City’s Mayco member for community services and health, said a number of sites had initially been considered but after consultations the City decided that having one facility would be a better approach, for logistical purposes and management of the site.
Dr Badroodien said the Strandfontein sports ground was chosen because it could comfortably accommodate the number of street people requiring shelter, while still adhering to social distancing protocols.
“We hope that the public can appreciate the magnitude of the exercise to provide accommodation at short notice to thousands of people, while continuing to deliver essential municipal services in the midst of the biggest health crisis our country has faced,” he said.
The City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre led efforts to prepare the site, which includes the erection of tents, ablution facilities and access to sanitation to promote good hygiene to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The site was then handed over to City’s department of social development to oversee the operation of the site.
Health screenings were conducted upon registration at the site, so that those with pre-existing conditions who may be high at risk could be identified.
There will also be a 24-hours a day law enforcement presence at the site.
Jeremy Jones, 59, who has been homeless for three months, said life had dealt him a blow when he lost his bricklaying job and couldn’t afford to continue paying rent for his wendy house in someone’s backyard.
His only option was then to take some of his belongings and live on the street and he settled next to a furniture shop in Victoria Road in Grassy Park.
“I didn’t have an option because my daughter lived with her family-in-law and there wasn’t anywhere for me to go. I made peace with it and came to live here and life has been tough,” he said.
Mr Jones is 10 month shy of being eligible for a pension grant.
“In a few months I will be able to get pension money so for now I have to wait it out. Hopefully I’ll be able to afford somewhere to live but until then I will probably still be on the street.”
Asked how he felt about the City’s plans to move them to the temporary shelter, Mr Jones said he had been waiting to be moved since the announcement.
“When I heard about the lockdown I was worried about our safety and how we will be able to cope. People then came to tell us about the shelter in Strandfontein more than a week ago and I was relieved but nothing has materialised yet. I will be very happy to move because it will mean we are a bit better off and protected. Hopefully there will be food and facilities to wash so that we do not have to worry about the virus killing us,” he said.
Fazlin Sadick, who has been living on the streets for two years, said she feared for her and her children’s lives.
“We are scared because if the virus breaks out amongst us it would be very bad. I am sick and have a problem with my kidneys so if I get infected with corona I am scared it will kill me and then who will look after my children,” she said.
Ms Sadick has two children aged one and five years old who live with her on the streets.
“The government wants us to wash our hands and stay clean to stop the virus but how can we do that if we have no facilities? We ‘skarrel’ for water so where are we going to get soap, let alone hand sanitiser,” she said.
“We will gladly go to Strandfontein during the lockdown but another question is what happens to us after the lockdown? Will we be forgotten like we were before corona?”
Jeremy van der Merwe who works as a car guard in Grassy Park and sleeps at a nearby car wash is contemplating going to the Strandfontien site.
“I don’t know if I’ll go because I’ve become used to living on the streets and I’m used to it. I go to my family home often to clean up but I prefer living on the street because when I’m home I am accused of stealing so it’s easier for me here but a lot of street people do not have that luxury,” he said.
Fabian Ludrick said he would not be going to the shelter.
“I don’t want to go to a shelter because there you have to abide by rules and we get treated badly. We are used to a certain way on the streets like I do not have to clock in anywhere so to be told what to do is difficult.
“I am worried about the virus but I would rather stay here where I’m familiar with my surroundings than go somewhere else,” said Mr Ludrick.
Dr Badroodien said once the coronavirus crisis has been dealt with the City will assess the feasibility of these shelters as potential permanent shelter sites. He also appealed to residents to donate to the most vulnerable.
Those willing to donate items of food, clothing blankets and other goods can call 021 597 6004 or email email@example.com
The South African Red Cross Society, has also established a point of contact for donations on 021 797 5360 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org