/ 25 June 2024

Court ruling ordering alternative housing for homeless in Cape Town is welcomed

Gettyimages 114313038 170667a
File photo of a homeless man sleeping on a Cape Town road.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) has welcomed a Western Cape high court order for the provision of alternative accommodation to more than 100 people soon to be evicted from public spaces in Cape Town’s inner city. 

Seri, representing the group, said they had conceded from the beginning of the case that their occupation of sites around the inner city was unlawful “and so the main issues in the case concerned the provision of alternative accommodation and its adequacy”.

In the judgment handed down on 18 June, the high court ordered the eviction of the group, but said they should be provided with alternative accommodation at one of the City of Cape Town’s shelters: Safe Space 1 in Culemborg.

“We welcome the judgment because no one in South Africa should be in a situation where their rights go undefended and their voices unheard,” Seri’s senior attorney, Nkosinathi Sithole, said in a statement.

The order was granted in terms of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act. 

“They live next to busy roads in tents or structures constructed of plastic sheets and cardboard. They are compelled to live their lives in public, with little or no privacy. They struggle for food, shelter and warmth,” acting Judge Michael Bishop said in his ruling.

Seri said the participation of the inner city occupiers in the litigation meant that they could discuss their concerns with the city, resulting in key concessions, the first being that they be offered alternative accommodation.

In the second concession, the city agreed to amend the shelter rules to make them more humane and compliant with the Constitution.

This means partners will not be separated into gender‑segregated accommodation, but instead be allowed to live together; shelter residents will not be locked out of the accommodation during the day; and people will not be limited to living for only six months in the safe spaces if they do not have alternative accommodation. 

“We look forward to what the rehabilitation programme promises our clients, including job opportunities, health and social support for drug and alcohol abuse,” Seri said.

The homeless groups occupy areas along Buitengracht Street, FW de Klerk Boulevard, Foregate Square, Helen Suzman Boulevard, Strand Street, Foreshore/N1, Virginia Avenue and Mill Street Bridge in the city centre. 

Although Seri commended the judgment, it said the court verdict dismissed other homeless people in Cape Town who are subject to eviction without the procedural protections provided by the Constitution.

The eviction will become effective from 31 July, Seri’s Matete Masola told the Mail & Guardian.

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has also welcomed the judgment.

“Seeking an eviction order was always our last resort. We extended our care interventions [temporary accommodation known as safe spaces] knowing that some would take them and some would not. We knew that when our interventions were not taken up, we would have to rely on the courts for help so this court order is good news,” he said in a video statement posted on social media platform X.

According to a census by the Western Cape government, there are an estimated 14 000 homeless people in the greater Cape Town area.