The City of Cape Town on Tuesday reiterated its call for residents to not give money or food directly to homeless individuals, saying that handouts perpetuate chronic homelessness.
Social work organisations in the city have, however, raised concern over the City’s “overly simplistic” approach to dealing with homelessness.
In a statement, mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services JP Smith said the City’s programmes to help “street people” would reach far more people if the public supported its interventions.
“We are constantly reminding residents about the harm in giving money directly to street people. While they may think they’re doing a good deed, in reality, it only discourages street people from accepting social services,” Smith said.
“Giving handouts [is] nothing more than a plaster on a wound, requiring far greater care.”
He said the City, therefore, actively encouraged residents and visitors to donate directly to social work organisations working with the homeless.
“While members of the public will complain about the structures erected and activities undertaken by street people, they will often also continue to incentivise such behaviour through donations directly to the street person.”
Smith said, during the 2016/17 financial year, the City’s Street People Unit responded to approximately 15 000 complaints about street people and successfully offered assistance to more than 2 600 individuals.
The Reintegration Unit reunited 82 persons with their families during this period, he said.
However Hannes van der Merwe, from local non-profit organisation Straatwerk, disagrees with Smith’s approach.
Van der Merwe said the City was taking an “overly simplistic approach to a very complex problem”.
“There are people where giving would be detrimental, yes, but there are people that you just have no choice but to help there in that moment,” Van der Merwe told News24.
“The right solution to a homeless individual’s problem is usually complex and unique.”
Van der Merwe agreed with Smith that donations to social work organisations would help, but said residents shouldn’t simply shift their responsibility to these organisations.
“Come look at what happens [at Straatwerk], and see what happens here. Look at how we try to help people sustainably and do your bit. Organisations like ours have years of experience in dealing with homelessness.”
Straatwerk was started in the 1960s and helps feed and create work for homeless individuals.
Haven Night Shelter CEO Hassan Khan agreed with Van der Merwe. He, however, emphasised that the general public should do their best to “give responsibly”.
“In the first instance, I think we are required to help. The Lord is very clear, you must give to those who are hungry,” Khan said.
“If you are far away from a shelter, advise a person about a nearby shelter. Or buy a passport (coupon) at one of our shelters. And if you can’t do that, take a moment and break bread with the person, sit down with him – make him feel loved.”
The Haven offers homeless people up to 30 days free accommodation, after which they are required to sign up for a personal development plan to help with reintegration.
“Come shower here at our shelters, come swop clothes, come and have lunch and supper with us, but the one thing we won’t do is give you a takeaway. You are our brother and we want you to feel like family,” Khan said.