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Is it a crime to be homeless? 'By-laws criminalise their very existence'

31 May 2021 8:10 AM
Tags:
Homeless
Ndifuna Ukwazi
homelessness
City of Cape Town

Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre attorney Jonty Cogger says the City of Cape Town is collecting complaints to bolster court cases.

The City of Cape Town has shared a template complaint form on social media to assist residents and businesses in various wards that has caused much criticism.

Some believe this request for these complaints is a retroactive action to bolster the court case being brought against the City by 11 homeless people challenging certain by-laws that they argue unfairly criminalise the homeless.

RELATED: City of Cape Town slammed for sharing homeless complaint form on social media

Refilwe Moloto speaks to Jonty Cogger, attorney at NPO Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre about this.

Cogger explains that the City of Cape Town has two by-laws that those experiencing homelessness are challenging in the High Court and the Equality Court.

It amounts to criminalising homelessness because it criminalises sleeping outside, lying outside, resting, urinating, and defecating. So obviously if you are homeless, you experience all life in public, and what these by-laws do is criminalise your very existence.

Jonty Cogger, Attorney - Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre

Cogger says this request from the public came after the court case launched by the group of homeless.

The City is soliciting public opinion asking people to lay complaints against homeless people to justify the reasons for having these by-laws. We are saying that soliciting complaints amounts to inciting hatred against people.

Jonty Cogger, Attorney - Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre

He argues that asking for negative stories and no positive stories is a dangerous legal strategy the City is using.

Cogger notes that it is a very generalised perception of people who are homeless.

There is not one homogenised group. The reason someone sleeps on the street is so complex and so individualised...to put all the varied reasons in one group and blame it on crime is extremely hurtful and dangerous.

Jonty Cogger, Attorney - Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre

He says one reason they are taking the case to the Equality Court is criminalizing homelessness is an afront to their human dignity.

They are seen as an alien in an area they have lived in for decades.

Jonty Cogger, Attorney - Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre

The City has responsibilities to all residents, he says, but seem to prioritise the opinions of ratepayers and homeowners.

He says homeless people are a minority community in Cape Town of about 14,000 people.

The City seems to be trying to solicit a majority view and bolster a public opinion that justifies criminalising a minority group.

Jonty Cogger, Attorney - Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre

He says the City has taken some time to respond to the application but says they will file an answering affidavit by the end of July.

Ultimately a judge must decide this. It is a black and white question. Is it a crime to be homeless?

Jonty Cogger, Attorney - Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre

Listen to the interview below:




31 May 2021 8:10 AM
Tags:
Homeless
Ndifuna Ukwazi
homelessness
City of Cape Town

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