Since last week’s column, I have been asked to define or explain in detail what I mean by the “homeless industrial complex”.
A homeless industrial complex is a socio-economic concept wherein businesses become entwined in social or political systems or institutions, creating or bolstering a profit economy from these systems.
Such a complex is said to pursue its own financial interests regardless of, and often at the expense of, the best interests of society and individuals. Businesses within an industrial complex may have been created to advance a social or political goal but mostly profit when the goal is not reached.
The industrial complex may profit financially from maintaining socially detrimental or inefficient systems. Consider the following: Opening up safe spaces that are unregistered with the provincial Department of Social Development and are thus not subject to the provincial white paper on homeless shelters.
Controversial tenders with service providers that are not registered with the provincial Department of Social Development, but have a long tender history with other departments within the City of Cape Town administration.
Appointing a non-profit CEO to decide on which other organisations benefit from a funding scheme.
An internal investigation replaces what was meant to be an independent one into one of the safe spaces, and the results of which have never been shared with the complainants.
The appointment of one service provider as an administrator of a programme worth millions from the presidential fund over other service providers, while that same organisation competes for the same funding and awards itself and its partners in another joint venture in the sector the bulk of the funding.
The administrator charges an administration fee from other organisations to administer on their behalf while it already receives well over R1 million a year for administering the project on behalf of the City.
An administrator participating in a project they administer.
The City calls on the public to give responsibly, and the SnapScan account advertised for the public to use to donate to help those living on the streets belongs to one of the service providers, and all the proceeds collected from the Give Responsibly Campaign have gone unshared for more than a decade.
City employees and service providers register their family members and acquaintances for EPWP and PEP projects rather than those living on the streets.
Projects being developed by service providers in conjunction with the City in order they benefit the City with cheap labour and no labour consequences.
Projects being developed for funding that benefits the service provider in adding to or maintaining their staff complement but with no sustainable benefit for the beneficiary.
Previously homeless individuals were given jobs to perform and are known as leaders or peer educators, but are paid stipends funded from project to project without ever progressing beyond stipend to salary and from peer educator to staff.
The City facilitates staff who are employed by service providers getting paid from a project budget meant to uplift those experiencing homelessness and that clearly prohibits salary payments for staff by adding “project administrator” positions to the claimable expenses.
The City builds safe spaces to accommodate for free the participants in projects like the PEP project and EPWP project, which have as part of their conditions that individuals should show progression throughout the period of their involvement in the project, especially in terms of becoming housed. This is despite the project providing funding for the service provider to contribute financially towards transitional accommodation for the beneficiary.
Prioritising Sassa grant recipients at shelters and charging full monthly rent despite the bed spaces having already been funded by the provincial government and numerous other “buy-a-bed” public funding initiatives.
The list is endless, and none of these are a failure of the City’s system to address a crisis of homelessness, but a system working precisely as designed: “To keep the undesirable person in a lifetime of flux, in a lifetime of transition, in a lifetime of insecurity, in a lifetime of disruption” is absolutely the desired outcome.
In practice, our homelessness policy blurs the distinction between services and prison, between social workers and police. Resisting or accepting the temporary options available and on offer, you either become a ward or get a warden.
To those who cheer a promise to “make life hell” for homeless people, a suggestion: imagine you are wrong. Consider the possibility it is cruelty, not kindness, that has created and compounded our City’s homelessness crisis.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.