“Eight years ago, I said it was time to change the tone of our politics,” said a sardonic Barack Obama at his last White House Correspondents’ dinner a few weeks ago.
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Pregnant, homeless in Cocoyea
Any day now, single mother Selika Jacob will give birth to her third child. Very likely she will take her newborn to the place she currently calls home—an abandoned, unsecured house furnished with only a mattress. She shares that space with her two other children and another family of three and is desperately appealing for a safe place to raise her children.
Jacob, 23, found herself in dire straits six months ago when the father of her children was arrested and imprisoned. His relatives, with whom she lived in Tobago, asked her to leave their home and she returned to Trinidad where she has no relatives to turn to, so she ended up on the streets with her children. She eventually came upon the abandoned house in Cocoyea Village, San Fernando, and moved in with her family.
Three weeks ago, while getting counselling at a social welfare office, Jacob met Candice Patterson, 22, a mother of two girls, who is also homeless. Patterson said her common-law-husband was shot dead by police in 2011 and his relatives put her out of their home
The two single mothers decided to share the abandoned structure and have worked out a system to care for their four children, Kershelle and Kimora, both five, Hannah, two, and Kevisha, 11 months. Patterson takes care of the children during the day while Jacobs works. Jacobs babysits at nights while Patterson works at a casino. Because of the distance and dark lonely road to get to their home, Jacob takes the children out onto the main road every night to await Patterson’s return.
They worry about what will happen when Jacob gives birth. Jacob, Patterson and another woman, Tamika Johnson, were in the spotlight almost two weeks ago when they camped out in front of the Housing Developing Corporation’s (HDC) head office on South Quay, Port-of-Spain, begging for homes. After spending the night on the Brian Lara Promenade in Port-of-Spain with their four children, the women also took their plight outside Parliament.
Jacob said those efforts were not successful but she was willing to go public again to get a secure and comfortable place to live. “We fear for our lives,” she said explaining that people using blocked numbers have been calling their phones, threatening to find them and rape them. “Sometimes I does be scared to even answer the phone, the kind of things they does be telling us,” she said. Both women say they have no relatives to turn to.
“My mother left me with a relative when I was three months old,” said Jacob. “My relative raised me but I left her home when I was 17. When I returned to look for her a few months ago, she was in a home for the elderly.” Jacob does not know if she has any other relatives. “I don’t know if I have any brothers, sisters, or anybody,” she said. Patterson said everyone she could have turned to for help is dead. “My mother, my father, my child father... everybody I know dead. All I have is my children,” she said.
The structure the women currently occupy is the remnants of a failed attempt by squatters to occupy state lands. It consists of a floor, an upstairs decking and a stairway to the front. There are no walls, doors, or windows. There is no running water or electricity. Jacobs has secured the open spaces with sheets of old galvanise but that is not enough to keep away drug addicts who have stolen the few possession she had. There is no protection against rain, insects, or reptiles.
The unfinished structure is surrounded by tall, thick bushes and is located on a lonely road some 15 minutes away from the main thoroughfare or other houses. Addicts and other shady characters frequent the deserted area. “They does be there whole day. Only in the night they does go. We can’t sleep in case they decide to come back during the night,” Jacob said. The women said the mattress on which they all slept was the only possession that had not been stolen.
Jacob’s stove and gas tank are long gone, so the families cannot even enjoy a hot meal. “I used to have a stove and a gas tank but somebody thief it when I went to work. Now I does leave all my things by a lady quite out the road. Kevisha, the baby doesn’t like the cold milk, but it’s the only thing I could give her,” Jacob said.
Even in her advanced state of pregnancy, Jacob goes to work daily at a DVD club in La Romaine. On her way, she drops off the two older girls at school in San Fernando, while the younger ones accompany her to work. “I keep them during the day, so Candice can go out and try to get help for us,” she said. The women are pleading with the HDC to provide them with homes. Jacob said they were willing to occupy one house temporarily until proper arrangements could be made.
Jacob said they had tried to rent apartments on their own but had been turned down by landlords because of the children. “Most places won’t take you if you have children. But I could never live without them. “HDC came here, took pictures, interviewed us, but up till now, nothing happening,” she said. “Until the day one of us get rape or kill inside here, everybody will continue to turn their backs.”
HDC: We are trying our best to help
HDC’s managing director Jearlean John said the agency was trying everything possible within its resources but the women’s cases could not take priority because there were many people who were worse off. “There are a lot of people under similar situations. Even though the circumstances might be different, we have to balance that. While the protest these women staged was very dramatic, there are so many people who have been waiting in line for years to get assistance,” she said.
John said this did not mean she did not sympathise with the conditions the women and their children were forced to live under. “We are not hard-hearted here,” John said. “I sit at my desk all day trying to find ways to help people in much worse conditions. We are trying to do the best with the resources we have.” John said there are no updates in either woman’s file to report.
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