Ruben Sylvester, homeless

Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, don’t touch your face, and try to stay at home.

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens internationally, public health advice, of the sort, have become mantras.

Although the mantras resonate with Vanessa Morris, she said, the step to turn words into action is difficult.

It’s not for a lack of trying, she insists.

Homeless since 2013, the Brian Lara Promenade, in Port-of-Spain, is her home.

As she spoke with Guardian Media, the voice of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as he announced the country’s latest measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, echoed from multiple sources.

“I don’t have a TV, but I hear it’s a virus, and I am not sure about it…Sometimes, I get a newspaper. I read about it,” Vanessa said.

Five days after Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh announced that the country had its first case, Vanessa said she’s yet to get any information about COVID-19 directly.

She was unaware of how many confirmed cases there were in T&T.

In her trove of items, which she’s gathered from discard piles, and garbages, over the years, there’s no hand sanitizer or soap.

Neither of those items has been provided to her by any good samaritans, or public officials, she claimed.

She hopes someone, preferably public officials, will come and talk to the hundreds of other homeless people in Port-of-Spain soon.

“If I’m scared? Oh, I’ve been through so much on the streets. I’m scared, but not that scared of this. I’ve been through so much more,” she said.

On the opposite end of the Promenade, Ruben Sylvester is searching the bins for lunch.

He has called the streets of Port-of-Spain his home for the last twenty years.

When asked, what he knows about the virus, he made a claim that he has been deemed scientifically inaccurate.

“I don’t know if it kills you, or not. As far as I understand, when a place hot, hot, in a heated country, you don’t catch a cold,” he said.

Like Vanessa, he also claimed to have not received any information about the virus directly.

“I eat things off of the ground and out of the dustbin. A woman, this morning, told me she thinks she caught the virus. But, I told her the kinds of things I eat, that won’t happen to me,” he joked.

Despite this, he said he doesn’t have any fear or anxiety about the pandemic.

This absence of heightened fear, Sylvester said, is as a result of his experiences on the street.

“I’ve survived things you can’t even imagine,” he added.

Contacted to find out whether or not the Port-of-Spain Corporation had any plans to inform the homeless about the virus, Deputy Mayor Hillan Morean said the corporation will fulfil all its public health requirements to all burgesses.

In December 2019, Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez announced plans to move the city’s homeless to a refurbished Riverside Plaza.