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Business owners, homeless at odds

Differing views at street dwelling symposium
Published: 
Saturday, August 23, 2014
Street dweller Vidya Ramlogan make an appeal for help during Wednesday’s public consultation at the San Fernando City Auditorium, Harris Promenade, San Fernando. PHOTO: TONY HOWELL

Stroke victim Vidya Ramlogan lives on the streets not because she wants to, but because she has nowhere else to go. Despite her desperate situation, Ramlogan says she uses what little money she has to take care of other street dwellers. “I came here to help homeless people. Some of them cannot help themselves. God is a good God, I will succeed one day,” Ramlogan said during a consultation held by the San Fernando City Corporation to find a solution to the homeless situation in the southern city on Wednesday.  

Saying she had no more tears to shed, she pleaded with the organisers to find housing for the street dwellers. While Ramlogan and other street dwellers spoke about the suffering they endured at the consultation at the City Auditorium, business owners spoke about the nuisance street dwellers create and called on the police to take action against them.

Wayne Teka, owner of business at Lord Street, San Fernando, said while he recognises street dwellers have rights, they must also be responsible. He said school children often have to interact with homeless people who are not in the best of health or mind. Appealing to the police to visit his property, he said there at least ten “beds” at the entrance of his business and customers are forced to walk over street dwellers. “I can’t open my business on a Monday,” Teka said.

Calling for regular patrols to ensure that the street dwellers are not on people’s properties, he said, “It is not fair for businesspeople to have to leave their home at night to address street dwellers.” Teka said he has made several reports to the police about verbal abuse and threats from street dwellers, and urged police to enforce the mental and public health laws. 

Another street dweller, Anand Bachu, said he has been living on the street for the past 18 years. After smoking cocaine for 13 years he said he kicked the habit, but he claimed to be an alcoholic. “The streets are dangerous. You think we want to sleep on cardboard every day? Help me get off the street.” 

San Fernando Business Association president Daphne Bartlett said she was upset that previous consultations on the issue had yielded no results. However, she said the business community will assist in whatever way they can to address the problem. She suggested that a building be built to house the homeless and structured programmes be implemented to help them get back on their feet.

In her feature address, Loraine Reyes-Borel, executive director at Ministry of the People and Social Development, said she had been dealing with street dwellers for the past 15 years and there was no quick fix to the problem. She said homeless people have a range of problems, but locking them away was not the answer. She said the answers lie in a collaborated and coordinated effort. “It is about offering persons who have a range of problems a range of solutions.”

Trevor Braithwaite, manager of Court Shamrock Home for the Socially Displaced People in San Fernando., says funding continues to hamper their ability to help street dwellers and the socially-displaced. “It all boils down to no funding,” Braithwaite told the symposium, noting that the home still receives a 1999 subvention. “We operate with a deficit budget, but they expect us to perform,” he said, adding that they are forced to raise their own funds.  

Braithwaite said the home could accommodate 50 people, but they cannot feed 50 people. He said the home now has 30 residents and that is a stretch. He said recently, the Rotary Club began helping them with funds for a night shelter which can accommodate 16 people. He said the plan was to get 16 double deckers, but that did not materialise. Since the home opened its doors in 1999, he said over 966 people have passed through the facility and they have had more successes than failures.