Senator Donna Cox, Minister of Social Development.

Gail Alexander

The Social Development Ministry has asked the Housing Ministry to assist with “transition housing” which is needed for street dwellers, says Social Development Minister Donna Cox.

She gave the information during Thursday’s Senate sitting, replying to queries from Independent Senator Paul Richards.

Cox said the current total number of street dwellers identified is 441.

At the end of 2019, there was 190 in Port of Spain, down from 365 in 2010.

She gave figures for other areas: Arima (26), St Augustine (2) Aranguez (1), San Juan (14 plus), Woodbrook (39), Chaguanas (20), Couva ( 3), San Fernando (71) and Princes Town (5).

On plans for a more appropriate centre for POS street dwellers than Riverside Carpark complex, Cox said,” Right now we’re identifying areas not only for housing them but to find assessment centres as we must first assess them.”

She said her Ministry is speaking with Public Administration and is also seeking talks with the Housing Ministry to assist with transition housing as that is needed along with long care facilities for them.

Cox said a meeting is on today with Housing, Health, Local Government, National Security, the PoS mayor and others on their commitment on the role they will have to take to help with the street dwelling problem.

Cox said over the years, the Ministry’s Social Displacement Unit’s interventions with the street dwelling population involved an approach of voluntary engagement and removal from the streets via outreach, assessment and referral of such persons.

Its services include;

* Support to the Elderly to access Homes for Older Persons;

* Expansion of the Community Care Programme to include persons 18 – 54 years unable to maintain themselves or have no means of subsistence/place of residence.

* Investigations of reports from agencies and the public on the presence of street dwellers at various locations throughout Trinidad;

* Social work interventions. Supervision, advice and support to various NGOs and other stakeholders who provide services to street dwellers.

*Access to grants available via Social Welfare Division.

*Subventions to Non-Government Organizations aimed at providing sanitary services, meals, accommodation to street dwellers.

One of the major features considered at the heart of addressing street dwelling is the establishment of an Assessment Centre.

She added:

“Determination of a street dweller’s needs cannot be done effectively while he/she is on the streets. It’s best they are off the streets, at a location from which comprehensive assessment can be undertaken. The Assessment Centre will allow street dwellers respite, a place where their needs can be diagnosed and the beginning of individualized care plans can begin to take shape.”

Identification of a location for the establishment of Street Dwellers Assessment Centres has been a challenge as it pertains to suitability and ease of access – but a suitable site will be sought in the shortest timeframe, Cox added.

Collaboration is on with PoS Corporation which has responsibility for developing and implementing, in collaboration Health and National Security, a framework for the removal of persons found on the streets and establishment of shelters for them.

The Attorney General’s Ministry was engaged on the swearing-in of Mental Health Officers as Justices of the Peace – a prerequisite for the engagement and removal of street dwellers deemed mentally ill. The AG’s office is also preparing for the proclamation of the Socially Displaced Persons Act 59 of 2000 to play a key role in addressing street dwellers’ needs and allow for their rehabilitation and re-integration.