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Lee Sing denies criminalising vagrancy
Street dwellers rounded-up in an exercise carried out by Port-of-Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing and city police on July 20, will reappear in court this month on loitering charges. However, Lee Sing said in a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday he was not criminalising vagrancy.
“I did it because it had to be done. Sometimes you walk through Port-of-Spain and feel that there are more street dwellers than others. As mayor I cannot permit it to continue,” said Lee Sing who added that the exercises were also to discourage street dwelling and highlight the issue nationally.
According to Lee Sing, vagrancy is a national problem for which there are no rules or regulations, leaving very few avenues for solutions. “People who develop challenges in their villages or communities find refuge in the city because of the anonymity it affords them...As a country we have no rules, regulations or laws to manage vagrancy and we will continue to have this challenge until the issue becomes a priority for society,” he said.
Although during the exercises approximately 70 per cent of those detained were found to be drug addicts, there was no law on mandatory rehabilitation, the mayor explained. Denying that he blamed the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) entirely for the city’s rise in homelessness, Lee Sing said the contribution of evictions to the problem could not be ignored.
He said there was “empirical evidence” to support his claim. He said there were four categories of street dwellers: drug addicts, mentally-ill persons, deportees and those who lack sufficient resources. In the exercise on July 20, 30 street dwellers were arrested. They are expected to reappear in court on August 15 and 16.
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