Home­less caus­ing flood­ing

‘Mo­tels’ dam­ag­ing drains and bridges

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ANNA COX

EN­TIRE com­mu­ni­ties of home­less peo­ple are liv­ing in­side, along­side and un­der Joburg’s bridges, free­ways and stormwa­ter drains. And they are not only se­verely com­pro­mis­ing the city’s in­fra­struc­ture but caus­ing se­vere flood­ing in parts of the city, ac­cord­ing to the Jo­han­nes­burg Roads Agency (JRA).

Sean Phillips, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the agency, said many peo­ple blamed the JRA and ac­cused it of not clear­ing and main­tain­ing the stormwa­ter drains, but the agency faced nu­mer­ous chal­lenges on a daily ba­sis.

The Star was taken on a tour of the most badly af­fected spots in the city. First stop was the M1’s Atholl Oak­lands Road turn-off.

Here re­cy­clers use the park to sort out their goods, but what is not needed lands in a nearby spruit and causes flood­ing in build­ings near Mel­rose Arch.

There is a wa­ter chan­nel which runs un­der the M1 to Houghton in which the home­less live. They have built shacks fur­nished with so­fas, beds and even TVs.

The next stop was the M2’s Mar­itzburg off-ramp, where one sin­gle paving block had been re­moved from the side of the free­way.

In­side, a man was curled up sleep­ing, cov­ered with a blan­ket.

“He prob­a­bly has other be­long­ings down there which will block the drainage sys­tem when it rains,” said Phillips.

The End Street and Hei­del­berg in­ter­sec­tion of free­ways is an­other prob­lem­atic area.

Here squat­ters sleep un­der the bridges, high up on the em­bank­ments, where they make beds and store clothes and blan­kets.

“They block drainage points, mean­ing the wa­ter can­not be chan­nelled to the drains. This causes the wa­ter to over­flow off the free­way di­rectly onto the em­bank­ments, erod­ing them, com­pro­mis­ing the struc­ture of the bridges,” said Phillips.

The JRA, he said, con­stantly had to fill up and com­pact these em­bank­ments to pre­vent se­ri­ous struc­tural dam­age.

An­other prob­lem was the home­less oc­cu­pied the bear­ing cham­bers along the same mo­tor­way.

Phillips ex­plained that parts of the free­ways were sup­ported by long, thick struc­tures which have bear­ings in­side and have to be reg­u­larly main­tained and greased.

“It is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for us to do this reg­u­lar main­te­nance with all these peo­ple sleep­ing there, so our free­ways are be­ing com­pro­mised,” he added.

In Prole­con, ca­bles are used to raise the lamps for the high­way light­ing. These are con­stantly be­ing, cut so the lamps, which con­tain steel, drop to the ground.

The prob­lem of these home­less com­mu­ni­ties is so rife that End Street, which runs un­der Joe Slovo Drive, has been nick­named “the mo­tel”.

Un­der ev­ery con­crete sup­port pole run­ning the length of the high­way, some­one has “booked” their spot by plac­ing their worldly be­long­ings.

These bridge sup­ports are black­ened from the daily fires they make for cook­ing and keep­ing them­selves warm.

Pros­ti­tutes and food ven­dors have set up flour­ish­ing busi­nesses in these ar­eas.

“These peo­ple are not only van­dal­is­ing all the bridges, but dam­ag­ing the struc­tures of these bridges with the con­stant fires,” Phillips said.

A dif­fer­ent, but re­lated prob­lem were the hun­dreds of drug ad­dicts liv­ing on the streets, openly in­ject­ing them­selves.

“They live in the open and throw the rub­bish into the stormwa­ter drains, again caus­ing huge block­ages,” he said.

Other prob­lems in­cluded theft of bridge rail­ings, stormwa­ter man­holes and drain cov­ers and the de­mo­li­tion of high­way di­rec­tional signs.

In some places, the JRA has placed barbed wire around signs to pre­vent their be­ing pulled apart.

“This is not only a JRA prob­lem… other de­part­ments, such as the Joburg metro po­lice depart­ment, Pik­itup and so­cial ser­vices should get in­volved,” Phillips added.

A new in­fra­struc­ture team, formed last year, he said, was work­ing on clamp­ing down on il­le­gal scrap­yards and deal­ers.

The JRA has 902 bridges to main­tain city­wide.

PIC­TURES: BABALWA DHLAMINI

DOWN THE DRAIN: Many of Joburg’s home­less are liv­ing un­der bridges and free­ways and in­side stormwa­ter drains.

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