Homeless causing flooding
‘Motels’ damaging drains and bridges
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.
DOWN THE DRAIN: Many of Joburg’s homeless are living under bridges and freeways and inside stormwater drains.