NRA Neighbourhood Watch

Rough-sleeper management 26/10/2022

We always said that the new NRA Neighbourhood Watch WhatsApp group would take time to iron out wrinkles and here is another.

Telling us what you think
Today two people contacted me privately to ask about the Neighbourhood Watch’s thinking regarding rough-sleeping.  One resident was worried that a sort of ‘mob mentality’ could develop where everyone reported vagrants with an expectation that they would be hounded out of town. 

We can confirm that this won’t happen because it’s not how the law, or our community, works.  We have neither the mandate nor the inclination to do that.

Essentially, these residents were not comfortable with the idea that anyone could be bullied just because they are poor and desperate. 

They are, unequivocally, correct.  Our neighbourhood should – and does – project both community security and compassion. 

Security and Social Work
‘NRA Security’ is a WhatsApp group  run by the NRA Neighbourhood Watch, dedicated to security alerts and responses. The NRA also has a Community portfolio which supports local events and Outreach.

However, experience tells me that it is extremely difficult to project compassion and law enforcement simultaneously.  We can guide people towards shelters and we can stop them waving knives at homeowners, but it is practically impossible to do those two things at the same time. Different skills, different circumstances. 

Open spaces belong to everyone
Everyone, residents and non-residents, has the right to use these streets and parks, so long they conform to the laws and by-laws. Vagrants do not have the right to sleep on private property but simply not liking the look of someone is not reason enough to harass them.

With regard to rough-sleeping, as per the picture from the Lady Ann footpath this morning (26/10/2022)
If you are afraid that a rough-sleeper is a security threat, then pictures do help responders to locate the person. As we all know, it is illegal to post a picture of an unknown person’s face and imply that they are a criminal.  And if you don’t call them a criminal, then please consider that person’s dignity. 

Dealing with rough-sleeping, and what used to be called ‘loitering’
Most of the homeless men and women we talk to are known to us. There is a rhythm to the underbelly of Newlands that may not be obvious. The heroin addicts who try to sleep at Hans & Lloyd, the Rastafarian who thieves while pretending to be a bin-miner, the man who obsessively picks weeds from cracks in the pavement, Aphiwe and his mania, the brothers from Manenberg who camp at the rugby ground but hang around the old Westerford Stores during the day. And many others.

We don’t roust sleeping people for no reason.  To be honest, we don’t have the resources to do that all day, even it was appropriate. And most residents don’t call for help with managing them.  But we do encounter apparently homeless people breaching laws and by-laws, almost every day.

So, we do ask anyone sleeping on a public bench to get off, if it’s stopping people from using the Paradise Park playgrounds. Likewise the path behind Newlands Pool, or people washing in the canals.  The same is true of the Paradise Park treehouse, the Dean Street underpass, Papenboom Meadow, Kent Road Park – the list is long. 

Within a couple of days of installing a covered playground in Pinewood Park, vagrants had made it their camp, rendering it unusable.  They may well deserve social support but that is not a reason to permit the hijacking of community resources and making them no-go areas.  Two different issues. 

Reporting rough-sleepers and vagrants
Back to the man asleep in the Lady Ann Avenue footpath.  That particular guy is dressed in the garb of a delivery company. That means that if he knocks at your door you may be fooled into opening up for him.  He was also sleeping in a narrow walkway used extensively by residents and childminders on their way to the park.  Some might find this intimidating.  We have a security team standing down twice a day at Buchan Bridge, just a few hundred metres from there, specifically to protect domestic workers being mugged.

Knowing who to challenge
It is extremely difficult to differentiate the drug addict from the mentally challenged, the petty thief from the career criminal, especially at night. One person might be all of those at different times. 

Take, Andile, long-term resident of Lower Hiddingh.  Most residents have seen Andile’s ghostly form, shuffling around in his signature white blanket.  He is grumpy and annoying, ringing bells at all hours of the night.  But Hiddingh has tolerated him in their gardens and on their verges for years.  And when he was accused of robbing an old man of his cellphone a few months ago, I and others publicly doubted the story – a pain but not a crook.   But it was him.  The phone was recovered by one of our Neighbourhood Watch patrollers.

NRA Neighbourhood Watch Policy
So to be clear, The NRA Neighbourhood Watch does respond to reports of rough sleepers and vagrants but it only acts on evidence of suspicious or disruptive activity. 

Looking at the logs on our internal group at midday today, there had  been three callouts for vagrants:  one was a sleeper in an awkward place, one bin-miner threatened a resident and needed talking down by the Community Patrol, and the third incident involved known drug users cooking on an open fire on the green belt in Upper Newlands.  All three incidents were investigated, and the action taken depended on the circumstances.

Having your say
I am grateful to those residents who got in touch today to express their concerns about attitudes towards rough-sleepers.  Keep at it. 

We won’t always get it right and it’s sometimes hard to know what is right.  But the NRA Neighbourhood Watch is not an unaccountable third party – it was formed by residents and is led and guided by residents. 

Debate is good – can we just ask that we don’t carry out that debate on the Security Group?!

With thanks,
March Turnbull, NRA Neighbourhood Watch