Maverick Citizen


Room for homeless in Cape Town shelters? Our probe found few empty places

Room for homeless in Cape Town shelters? Our probe found few empty places
After a tent erected in Observatory to house homeless people was taken down by the City of Cape Town last week, councillor Zahid Badroodien said there was room in shelters. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

GroundUp contacted shelters across Cape Town and found that there were few places available at shelters, despite City Councillor Zahid Badroodien’s claim to the contrary.

First published by GroundUp

At the height of the storm which battered Cape Town last week, City of Cape Town councillor Zahid Badroodien insisted there was space in the city’s shelters for homeless people. But our investigation found otherwise.

On 11 June, following the removal by the City of a tent that had been set up to provide shelter for homeless residents of Observatory, Badroodien, who is Mayco Member for Community Services and Health, said: “Homeless shelters are available, no need for breaking the law”.

Spaces were available at homeless shelters across Cape Town, said Badroodien. “Shelters across the City are ready to welcome homeless persons. The public is encouraged to donate to these shelters or help a homeless individual to access them.”

“Together with NGO partners, care and shelter is being offered for up to 4,000 homeless persons in these trying times,” said Badroodien, referring members of the public wishing to help homeless people to the Western Cape provincial government’s directory of shelters.

The website lists 13 shelters in greater Cape Town, with a further five outside Cape Town. Of the City shelters listed, nine are run by the Haven. The Haven also runs a shelter in Bellville, which is not listed, and a number of shelters out of town.

The shelters listed in the Western Cape government’s registry have a total capacity of 841 beds. There are at least six other major, permanent shelters in the greater Cape Town region that are not listed in the Western Cape government’s registry. These shelters are listed in the City of Cape Town’s Street People Enumeration report of 2018-19, which is the City’s most recent attempt to count the number of homeless people in the Cape Town metropole.

The Street People Enumeration report lists the following ‘shelters’ which are not included in the Western Cape’s list: Youth Solutions, Beth Rogelim (Salvation Army), Culemborg Safe Space, MES (formerly Metro Evangelical Services), OASIS, Somerset West Night Shelter, ARK. At the time of the report there were 2,446 beds in these shelters.

Groundup contacted as many of the shelters on both lists as we could.

Here is what we found:

  • The ARK (accounting for 41% of all shelter beds in the City) is not taking any new people.
  • Beth Rogelim is a Salvation Army-run facility but Major Eddie de Vos, who runs the facility, told GroundUp it is not in fact a shelter. There is an elderly care facility, which was not taking any new people, he said, and a low income facility, catering for people with jobs, which is also not taking any new people.
  • The Moira Henderson Haven shelter in Woodstock also caters for low income earners. On Friday 12 June there was space for four men, but you would need to have three months bank statement, proof of employment, an identity document (proof of asylum papers are accepted), and a negative Covid-19 test.
  • The other Haven shelters that GroundUp was able to speak to on 12 June all described a similar Covid-19 testing policy. GroundUp was told that any person wishing to enter these shelters had to go to a Dischem pharmacy to receive a free Covid-19 test. If the test returned a negative result three days later, the person would then receive a screening from the facility, and then would be admitted, if there was space.
  • This was also the policy of the Elim shelter in Elsies River, which has 70 beds in total. There were seven free beds as of 12 June.
  • The Haven shelters in Wynberg, and Selkirk Street District Six refused to speak to GroundUp, referring us to their head office. In turn, Haven’s head office referred us to the cellphone number of CEO Dr Hassan Khan. At the time of publication, Dr Khan had not replied to GroundUp’s message sent on 12 June.
  • The Haven in Kensington had space for four women, subject to Covid-19 testing.
  • The Haven in Kraaifontein could not be reached – the number was dead.
  • The Haven in Napier Street, Green Point, had space for five women, subject to Covid-19 testing.
  • The Haven in Bellville was full.
  • The Haven in Claremont had space for three women.
  • The Haven in Kensington had space for four women, subject to Covid-19 testing.
  • The Haven in Kalk Bay had space for one woman, but this space had been reserved, also subject to Covid-19 testing.
  • The Haven in Retreat had space for two women, subject to Covid-19 testing.
  • Elim Night Shelter in Elsies River had space for seven people, subject to Covid-19 testing.
  • Happy Valley in Simon’s Town could not be reached.
  • Oasis shelter in Philippi is not accepting any new people, but told GroundUp they would have twenty new beds available in two weeks.
  • OWL Shelter in Lansdowne had space for 10 men – this is the only shelter that required screening only.
  • Loaves and Fishes, Mowbray, was not accepting any people.
  • Youth Solution in Zonnebloem was not accepting any people.
  • MES and Culemborg, which are “safe spaces” rather than shelters, are only able to take new people subject to a referral from the Department of Social Development. ‘Safe Spaces’ are “a step down from a shelter…a basic facility where street people can sleep safely, sheltered from criminal elements and the weather, and can access…ablution facilities and social relief.”
  • MES Safe Space could not be reached – the number on Google went to the answering machine, while the number on the website for the Cape Town shelter does not exist.


Anyone seeking entry into Culemborg Safe Space must first go to the Department of Social Development (DSD) and get a referral letter. DSD will then inform the person whether there is space at Culemborg.

In total, according to what GroundUp could find out, there were 25 spaces available in various shelters subject to the presentation of a Covid-19 negative result, and 10 spaces for men only available at the OWL Shelter in Lansdowne (seven kilometres from Observatory as the crow flies), subject to screening. It’s possible there were more spaces at the places that did not respond to us.

Homeless in Cape Town

The City of Cape Town report found that 3,999 people were homeless in November 2018, 16% fewer than the previous count, four years earlier, and 2,084 people were in shelters.

The report shows 6,175 homeless people, 3,999 homeless people on the streets, an estimated 92 homeless people living in ‘crime hotspots’, and 2,084 ‘sheltered homeless’.

But when the researchers drove around the city between 13 and 30 November 2018, counting people that they saw, they did not enter the following suburbs as they were ‘crime hotspots’: Manenberg, Bonteheuwel, Belhar, Delft, Kraaifontein, Macassar, Pelikan Park, Philippi, Lavender Hill, and Strandfontein. Instead, the researchers gave estimates for the total number of homeless people in all of these areas, which came to 92 people. Yet the Kraaifontein Haven shelter alone had 98 beds in its shelter, all occupied as of 31 March 2020.

Shelter after a disaster

The City of Cape Town offers “Emergency Sheltering”, usually in community halls, for people in informal settlements whose homes are inundated during storms, or destroyed in fires. But storage is not made available and Charlotte Powell from the City’s Disaster Management said: “The City’s facilities are available for emergency sheltering and will be made available if evacuation is required. However, residents don’t want to take up the offer because they don’t want to leave their belongings behind.”

According to Powell, in order to access emergency shelter, people must “make contact with their local councillors so that the ward councillor can inform the Disaster Risk Management Centre during a flood event. When a Disaster Risk Management official completes an assessment and residents need to be evacuated to emergency sheltering, this will be made known to communities.

She said residents could stay in community halls for three days after a flood and this could be extended for another three days.

“No residents were displaced during June 2020 and no emergency sheltering was required.” DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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