The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services is having difficulty in securing a place to house 336 Port-of-Spain street dwellers, as potential landlords are quick to give them notice when they find out who their tenants would be.
The admission came from Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox, as she spoke to Guardian Media in a recent interview about her ministry’s plans to deal with socially displaced people in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando in the coming months.
“We (ministry) have been doing a lot with regards to the homeless,” Cox admitted, stating the task to have these vulnerable group off the streets has not been easy and would require a collaborative effort of the T&T Police Service, Health Ministry, Banking Association of T&T and other stakeholders.
“If I could have done it, I would have been there moving them myself. But we cannot do it on our own,” she said.
A headcount done by the ministry in San Fernando and Port-of-Spain areas in March 2021 showed a total of 439 street dwellers.
A breakdown by the ministry’s Socially Displaced Unit showed 336 socially displaced individuals reside in and around the capital city.
Of this figure, 53 males live in St James and Woodbrook districts.
In the heart of Port-of-Spain, the ministry recorded 258 males and 25 females.
The ministry also documented 103 street dwellers in San Fernando and Marabella districts.
A total of 86 males and eight females live in San Fernando.
In Marabella, only seven males were reported.
Cox said the numbers of street dwellers have not increased over the years.
“It’s about the same.”
Since assuming office, Cox said her ministry identified several potential places in Port-of-Spain to accommodate the homeless.
But they continue to face one problem.
“Anytime we find a space…the ministry is just thrown out of the place. When I say thrown out, is like no, we (landlord) want it for something else. So we have had problems acquiring a suitable space to put the homeless.”
Cox said she intends to move street dwellers from the unsightly Riverside Plaza car park.
“We need a place in or around Port-of-Spain. You cannot take the homeless if they are based in Port-of-Spain and put them in San Fernando. We have to find places at least in close proximity so that they would be comfortable. Just taking them and putting them in an area they are not comfortable with… that will cause problems.”
She said many people fail to realise street dwellers have rights that the State cannot violate.
“Everything must be done properly.”
Questioned how soon the ministry plans to administer COVID-19 vaccines to street dwellers, Cox said “that is something we have approached the Health Minister with. That is an area they are working at.”
When the ministry is ready to roll a vaccination drive, Cox said, it would have to be done at Riverside Plaza’s car park and not on the streets and they would not be forced to take it.
Despite the implementation of several action plans and inter-ministerial committees, little progress has been made over the years to root out street dwelling.
The ministry, Cox said, would have to engage the office of the Attorney General to get the ball rolling.