Seeking solutions to vagrant problem

The meeting was called by Ward 65 councillor Donovan Nelson to propose possible solutions to the vagrant issue in Grassy Park.

A combined meeting was held between safety stakeholders in wards 65, 67 and 110 last week to propose urgent solutions to vagrants in the various wards.

The meeting was called by Ward 65 councillor Donovan Nelson to propose possible solutions to the vagrant issue in Grassy Park.

According to Mr Nelson, the spaces where the vagrants live, have become drug and crime hot spots.

“This has led to many residents complaining and raising the matter with the councillors. The meeting has serious implications for Grassy Park and is a pivotal step in the right direction.”

Mr Nelson said it was important for all stakeholders to address, “these complex matters, and it’s why we invited the SAPS, Metro Police, Law Enforcement, the CPF and even our neighbourhood watches.”

Vagrants outside Grassy Park library in 5th Avenue.

Colonel Dawood Laing, Grassy Park police station commander, told Southern Mail it was important to identify the hot spots where “vagrants” are occupying such as Victoria Road, especially in front of well-known businesses, in Reddy Avenue, in front of the library, in 5th Avenue, at the City Council office, at Grassy Park Clinic, in Rooikrans Avenue and next to the canal, and Gillray Crescent, next to Cecil Ford.

However, Colonel Laing said the people squatting at these hot spots are not vagrants.

“Vagrants are identified as people without a home or any form of protection. These people squatting there are mostly gang members. They are for sure dealing in drugs as drugs have been found numerous times on them and in their structures. They are definitely consuming drugs, alcohol and partaking in sexual activities of which prostitution cannot be excluded.”

Colonel Laing said the majority of these people do have family members in and around Grassy Park. “They don’t want to comply with house rules and discipline. Since their occupation, economical crimes in the area of Victoria Road, between Klip and 7th Avenue and Lake Road have increased.”

The types of crime of which Grassy Park SAPS have to regularly deal with include theft of gate motors, cable theft and other household items.

“House break-ins and theft, theft out of motor vehicles and street robberies have also been reported where these persons have been identified.”

Colonel Laing said two rape cases and a number of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm cases were also reported. Gang violence has also started as a direct result of them as one gang that was quiet for a long time found momentum again and some of them were arrested for murder and attempted murder.

Councillor Gerry Gordon at the site where vagrants occupy land in Zeekoevlei.

Colonel Laing said in the latest crime incidents there were break-ins at businesses in Victoria Road and Lake Road as well as two robberies and assaults.

Dealing with the culprits had been challenging for police and Colonel Laing said: “These vagrants or destitute people as they want to be called refused on many occasions to be placed in proper conditions as they will not be able to carry on with criminal activities or substance uses.”

Colonel Laing said the vagrants deter businesses from coming in the area, “and prospective customers would rather move to businesses where they are not harassed or abused. This is to the detriment of the economy and livelihood of the people of Grassy Park.”

The vagrants stop investment into the area and house valuations drop by tens of thousands of rands.

“The courts must act strictly against these people who are breaking down the image and economy of an area. These people need to be removed to alternative places. Most of these people get grants, this benefit must be withheld if they refuse alternative placement,” suggested Colonel Laing.

“If people are destitute then they will accept alternative placement but they are not because here their illegal squatting is lucrative and profitable to the detriment of the community and businesses,” said Colonel Laing.

Nicole Jacobus, deputy chairperson of Grassy Park community police forum, said: “They are homeless or displaced as a result of becoming wayward and so leaving their places of residence as a result of their habits.These people become involved in gangsterism and drugs and so promote the selling of drugs and gangsterism.”

Ms Jacobus said: “We would like to ask the community not to feed the habits of the vagrants/displaced people. We would like to encourage the community to rather donate to actual shelters.”

Howard Downes, spokesperson for Diaz Village Neighbourhood Watch, in Grassy Park, said their patrolling boundaries include Victoria Road, 5th Avenue and Prince George Drive. “However, we also do cross border patrols with the CPF and other neighbourhood watches.”

Mr Downes said: “We not only have to deal with homelessness every day but also with people who are drug users, people who are prostituting themselves and parolees who find themselves on the streets and homeless after they are released from prison.”

At the meeting, Mr Downes said the councillors requested the neighbourhood watches to help secure the city properties where vagrants had been removed and to alert Law Enforcement when these vagrants return.

Mr Downes said he suggested that overnight shelters should become, “a place of safety for a longer period of time maybe three months, permanent housing should be the master plan.”

Mr Nelson said: “Also in attendance was the Sub-council 18 manager, Fred Monk who raised concerns with the increase in crime in Grassy Park and members present (at the meeting) resolved to call another meeting and to ensure that action steps are taken.”

Mr Nelson said a date for the next meeting has not yet been confirmed.