A Vasco businessman says homeless people squatting in a City-owned parking lot next to his business are driving away his customers and costing him money.
David Baird, who has run a welding business on the corner of Hamilton and Dellwyn streets since 1998, says the homeless issue has escalated over the years.
They not only lived in the parking lot, but also broke the fencing at the Vasco train station, stashed their belongings on Metrorail property and hung their washing from a fence in front of his business, he said.
It was hard to gauge exactly how much damage they had done to his business, but they had definitely put a damper on it, and customers no longer used the parking lot after they moved in, he said.
“It is an eyesore to the community and my customers. I have had no interaction with the homeless people, as I don’t want to encourage them to be there.”
He said some of the homeless people appeared to have children living with them and there were no nearby ablution facilities.
“How do they wash? How do they go to the toilet?” said Mr Baird.
Mr Baird said he had had few problems with crime at his business over the years, but since the homeless had moved in there had been a spike in petty theft: copper pipes,
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drain covers and plastic drain pipes were being stolen, although he hadn’t reported any of it to the police.
Goodwood police spokesman Lieutenant Waynne Theunis said there had been a rise in robberies at train stations in the Goodwood area in recent months, but blame for those could not be pinned on the homeless.
“Our homeless people in Goodwood are not the criminals. There are a few among them, but the criminals use the homeless people as a front. They infiltrate themselves into the groups with homeless people, and operate from there. We have had many cases where the homeless people report to us about these criminals,” said Lieutenant Theunis.
Northern News tried to interview a homeless man who was hanging washing on the fence, but he declined to comment.
Ward 27 councillor, Cecile Janse van Rensburg said she shared Mr Baird’s “very valid frustration” about the street people in the parking lot, which, she noted, was due to be sold through public tender.
Ms Janse van Rensburg said City assistance programmes tried to reintegrate street people into society, but they often refused help.
“I am also aware that kind-hearted people provide food, clothing and bedding to these people – these admirable gestures are well meant but are not in line with the City’s ‘Give Responsibly’ campaign. If we continue to feed people on the streets, they will remain there. I urge well-meaning residents to consider the unintended consequences when they reach out to street people in this manner,” said Ms Janse van Rensburg.
She said it was a pity that more could not be done to prevent trespassing on railway land.
“The railway reserve is a mess. I am aware that the street people store their belongings there and some even sleep there.
“Not only is it unsightly but it is surely dangerous as well to have persons moving about a very busy railway line,” said Ms Janse van Rensburg.
Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott said the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) knew about shelters being built on its land and homeless people were repeatedly cleared from these sites in collaboration with the City.
Vacant Prasa land had been documented so it could be either leased or developed, Ms Scott said.
”The facilities are fenced off to the public, only to be broken into and vandalised repeatedly,” she said.
“With the assistance of SAPS, arrests are made, but people are released soon afterwards, and the spiral starts anew.
“Prasa’s asset protection unit steps up their vigilance in ensuring that sites are secure and protected from further vandalism. It is unfortunate that Prasa has to allocate more resources to keep off vagrants and vandals at the cost of other priorities.”