Campaign to ‘freeze rent’ gains momentum

… As Swakop opens Youth Hostel to homeless

By Jade McClune

FOLLOWING a concerted campaign to place homeless people on the streets of Swakopmund into safe accommodation, a group of youth volunteers celebrated success last week when the authorities agreed to house all the town’s homeless at the deserted old German fortress, known as the Youth Hostel that was previously reserved for tourists.

The Swakopmund Engagement Group (SCEG)’s Covid-19 Response Team, led by Vadi Phil and Carl Pesat, as well as the Swakopmund Concerned Citizens Association (SCCA) led by David Nghimbwasha have made a number of significant strides in recent weeks as they campaigned for water, food and shelter for the most vulnerable.

In response to mounting public pressure, the authorities at Swakopmund and Walvis Bay (indeed nationwide) recently agreed to open the water supply of households whose water had been cut off over debt. At Swakopmund additional water communal points were set up in the DRC, and since the water charges were removed residents are now able to access water at no cost, a move that has brought relief to people in the area.

In their latest move to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, the community activists leading the fight to protect the poor have persuaded the authorities to allow the homeless to occupy a dormitory at the Youth Hostel, where they are able to wash, cook and have a roof over their heads while they are under lockdown.

Pesat, who leads the Swakopmund Steering Committee (SSC) of community activists, said they collected foodstuffs, clothes and basic goods like soap to support the destitute people in isolation at the Youth Hostel. He said the homeless are often seen as a problem, but with a bit of support they would become valued members of the community and can make a meaningful contribution to society.

Some of the homeless now accommodated at the Youth Hostel used to sleep in the open near the old swimming pool. They expressed much gratitude for the efforts of the community to protect them against the coronavirus by giving them a place of shelter.

In further negotiations due to take place last Wednesday, Pesat and Vadi were set to enter into discussions with the local councillors to demand a rent and mortgage freeze to help affected households that were hit hard by job losses and loss of income during the lockdown and the state of emergency.

This may be necessary because a large numbers of people face the dreadful prospect of being evicted in the middle of winter in the midst of a raging worldwide pandemic as rent becomes due, a situation that the activists agree is untenable and unacceptable.

The government this week urged landlords not to evict people that are in financial distress due to the lockdown, but a number of activists have pointed out that the government has the authority to specify in the state of emergency regulations that there should be a rent and mortgage freeze for the duration of the crisis.

The three prominent community organisations leading the fight against the impact of Covid-19 on the ground, the SSCA, the SCEG and the SSC are in general agreement that a rent and mortgage freeze would help affected families weather the storm and would allow people to use their income for essential goods, such as food and medicine.

Nghimbwasha of the SSCA said people are literally starving in the most deprived areas, with small children wasting away from lack of nutrition. The SCCA has appealed for food donations and goods to help the poorest and most deprived people. A number of individuals and local companies have come forward to help with cash donations and food parcels.

Their argument is that a rent freeze would help struggling households but also small businesses, who have had no income, but have high rental fees to pay. A rent freeze for the duration of the state of emergency would bring some financial relief to the most hard-pressed households, while a temporary mortgage freeze would go a long way to rescuing companies and house-owners in distress.

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