Midyear update 2021 – working to make places for people
The Observatory community is made up of a bustling mix of people from all walks of life who live, work and socialize in the area. We face the typical inner city challenges of grime and crime, with a sizeable segment of the community who call the streets and public spaces of Observatory their home.
The OBSID is tackling these issues on a daily basis and we hope this update gives you an overview of what we’re doing to improve public spaces, safety and cleanliness in the suburb.
Public spaces projects in 2021
Reimagining the Village Green: We’re excited to be partnering with Open Streets, who are undertaking a feasibility study around the Village Green. This project will develop and communicate a suggested implementation plan for the Observatory Village Green public space and its surrounding context.
The plan and its outcomes will address the proposed transformation of this space in a way in a manner that is citizen supported, institutionally underpinned, and both socially and financially sustainable.
Telling the story of Observatory through heritage and memorialisation: a working group comprising members of the OBSID Board as well as the Observatory Civic Association (OCA) Management Committee are currently reviewing and assessing a wide range of proposals received in response to this call.
We’re hoping that this project delivers road-map to commemorate key aspects of the heritage and history of Observatory, ensuring that both the process and the outcome are underpinned by community engagement, inclusivity and representivity across the whole neighbourhood.
Strategic green infrastructure: OBSID has partnered with Communitree to activate a greening strategy intended to restore indigenous vegetation in the public spaces.
Through community training, it’s hoped that this approach will also be rolled out to private and kerbside gardens by a group of “greeners” who are gaining the skills and knowledge to propagate and plant responsibly.
At the moment, community volunteers are looking after home nurseries and growing plants to grow plants for use in the public spaces of Observatory. These volunteers have been drawn both from the OBSID work-based rehabilitation team and the broader community. Sixteen people are active in the project at the moment and we’ll be planting out our first public space in June 2021.
We have a very well-organized, extensive public safety service in Observatory in partnership with our safety contractor, Securitas. This includes 24/7/265 foot and vehicle patrols backed up by a control room and technology such as licence plate recognition (LPR) systems. We trialled a community safety app in the second half of 2020, providing the community with another channel to report issues and request assistance in the public spaces. We work closely with Woodstock SAPS and have assisted with 21 arrests so far this year.
With already high levels of unemployment, the impact of the Covid-18 pandemic and increasing poverty there has been an overall upward trend in criminal incidents across Cape Town. In 2021, we have noted a slight increase in incidents in Observatory, mostly vehicle related thefts and muggings / assaults. We’re constantly adjusting our deployments to respond to crime trends and can see the impact of the efforts of our community safety team in keeping the community of Observatory safe.
One of the biggest challenges we face is underreporting to SAPS – many of the incidents can be linked to a few criminally minded individuals, but most of the victims are not willing to open cases, so although we follow up and pass information along to SAPS about crime related incidents, they can’t act or deploy resources.
For example, in the past year, only 27% of the total number of battery thefts recorded by OBSID were reported to SAPS. Active citizenry is needed – the residents of Obs must report incidents to the police to help us tackle crime, and get the SAPS resources we need in the area. Residents also need to be more vigilant about their property and possessions.
The OBSID urban management team works staggered shifts, seven days a week, tackling hotspots, collecting dumping, completing dumpsite runs and picking up litter. In addition, they do weeding, deep cleaning and drain cleaning across Observatory.
The OBSID cleaning teams collect over 1000 bags of refuse off the streets a week on average – over and above the City of Cape Town’s refuse service collection services.
Illegal dumping remains a continual challenge. Our team is doing an excellent job, but in some instances, people take advantage of our efficiency– they know we will pick up refuse, so they dump their household, restaurant or business waste on the streets. We need to work together as a community to stop this selfish behaviour.
Relationships with the City’s Solid Waste department are good and we enjoy high levels of cooperation from them when we have issues.
We are very grateful to our partner, Straatwerk for their regular work throughout Observatory, tackling tagging and graffiti. They provide an excellent service to us.
OBSID has continued to revitalize the green spaces of Observatory, by neatening and cleaning up the parks and verges. Our ongoing partnership with Green4Life Gardeners continues to deliver good results.
Our social development programmes are strong. We have a sound programme framework that includes outreach, individual case management, linkage services and access to work-based rehabilitation and supportive housing.
The entire management team has recently completed a harm reduction training programme in partnership with SANPUD (South African network for People who Use Drugs), deepening our understanding of the challenges our clients face as regards substance use and better understanding how we respond to this in our work-based rehabilitation and supportive housing programmes as well as in our interactions with those living on the streets.
We’ve seen significant impact through our linkage work – attending hospital and clinic visits with clients, thereby ensuring that they are able to access healthcare and other services. We’ve seen more and more of those living on the streets of Observatory receiving medical treatment, resuming chronic medication use and being assessed for participation in Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) through TB HIV Care.
We have a team of medical doctors that is a wonderful resource and they have guided our team through a number of clients presenting with medical issues in the past months – including correcting the dosage of medication prescribed by the day hospital for one of our clients after he complained of side effects.
Our work-based rehabilitation programme offers daily structure, group sessions, a participation stipend and the chance to belong to something and practice life and work skills.
The team attend Working on Wellness (life skills, breathing techniques and yoga) sessions with the Obs Pasta Kitchen each Wednesday and have recently completed an 8-week programme on GBV / gender rights with Mosaic.
Clients of the work-based rehabilitation programme are drawn from the chronic homeless population of Observatory (having been on the streets for longer than 10 years) – one of whom is currently enrolled in programmes with the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre.
As part of our effort to address homelessness, we’re continuing to operate a supportive housing project called the Obz Rainbow House. Our development partner, Khulisa Streetscapes, was forced to withdraw from active management of the programme earlier in 2021, so the OBSID is currently fulfilling this role.
We have a community of 7-9 people living in the house (with room for more), strong supervision standards and community agreed behaviours and consequences frameworks.
Unfortunately, the lack of funding means that the project may have to close later in 2021, so we’re appealing for assistance from the Observatory community to sustain it. We’re grateful for the support of our community partner, the Obs Pasta Kitchen, who have come on board to help fundraise for this project.
Opened in lockdown last year The Obz Rainbow House has been a place of refuge for members of the street based community of Observatory who were looking to take the next step, get off the streets and find work and shelter. Daily support and work, hot meals, a sense of community and a warm bed has given the group living here a new lease on life.
We need community support to raise awareness about this great project and to keep it open through winter. We’re hoping to raise R60 000-00 towards rental and living costs until the end of September 2021. If more is raised or a development and funding partner is secured, we hope to keep this important project open longer term.
If you’re able to make a monetary donation to the Obz House, you can do so through the Obs Pasta Kitchen – please see banking details below:
Obz Pasta Kitchen: International Association for Human Values
Bank: First National Bank
Branch: Lenasia Branch
Branch code: 250737
Account number: 620456