Long-awaited plans were announced yesterday for the necessary legislation to remove street dwellers off the streets and provide the care and rehabilitation required, even without their consent.
According to the Ministry of Social Development’s Permanent Secretary Jacqueline Johnson, the legislation which is in the works will give ministry officials and officers from the T&T Police Service the legal backing to ensure street dwellers get the help they need and treat them with dignity.
For years the issue of street dwellers, particularly those who make their home along the streets of the capital city of Port-of-Spain, dogged several Mayors and administrations.
At last count, there were said to be just over an estimated 400 street dwellers in major areas of Arima, San Fernando and Port-of-Spain, with the capital city having the lion’s share of around 170 homeless people.
Despite high profile efforts from the likes of former Mayor Louis Lee Sing and former Minister Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh removing the homeless from the streets has not been an easy fix.
Most recently Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez instituted the “move along’ plan to get streets dwellers from congregating in an area and get them to facilities like the Riverside Plaza.
That too has not had the outcome which was hoped.
In San Fernando, the launch of a night shelter in 2020 provided a solution to the problem, albeit a temporary one—with the homeless off the streets for just a few hours a day.
And while the Ministry of Social Development is also hoping to construct a new state-of-the-art facility in Port-of-Spain to house the homeless to accompany coming legislation, the root causes must be identified and emphasis placed there as well.
Too often people with mental health, drug or alcohol addiction and even facing family and financial hardships fall through the cracks and are allowed to navigate life on their own, on the streets.
These contributing factors cannot be swept under the rug or glossed over, otherwise, the removal of street dwellers may appear to be cosmetic.
Regrettably, the Social Development Ministry’s Permanent Secretary revealed the Social Displacement Unit was only staffed with two people to determine how many street dwellers there are all over the country and reach out to them.
Surely, this cannot be considered adequate if this country is truly serious about helping the displaced.
Rehabilitating the displaced and getting them back on their feet to lead and live productive lives, has eluded those at the helm of this country’s major cities and Government for years.
It is hoped the proposed legislation and plans materialise soon and do not fall by the wayside.
It is high time a solution is found.
After all, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “a true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”