A homeless man asleep on a bench on Independence Square last year.

Akash Samaroo

The Government will soon have the authority to forcibly remove street dwellers.

The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services told a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament yesterday that it is working on legislation that will give itself and the Police the legal backing to involuntarily remove the socially displaced.

“We have completed our policy document, we have set up our own internal review committee, we have started to engage key agencies so we’re of the view that it can be completed in fiscal 2022,” said Jacqueline Johnson, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary.

Johnson said while there is current legislation that deals with street dwellers – the Socially Displaced Persons Act of 2000 – it was never proclaimed and it also did not allow for the involuntary removal of street dwellers.

“We have to depend on the voluntary system where we go out on the streets and ask people to come to the Riverside Carpark facility. In order to effectively move people, we need to be able to force people to come off the streets,” Johnson told the JSC.

She added that once the proposed legislation is in place and they have that authority then it will allow the Ministry to care and protect the socially displaced.

Johnson admitted that there is a Social Displacement Unit which is tasked with outreach and auditing the number of socially displaced people in the country, and currently there are only two people doing this job.

“Countrywide?” asked a shocked Nyan Gadsby-Dolly who chaired the sitting.

“Countrywide,” answered Johnson.

Gadsby-Dolly criticized that this current arrangement could give the impression that the country was not serious about caring for its socially displaced.

However, Johnson said the plan is to build a state-of-the-art facility in Port of Spain that will provide accommodations for street dwellers while they undergo rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, both the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the Port of Spain City Corporation Police admitted that when it comes to forcibly removing people off the streets their “hands are tied.”

“Homelessness is not a crime,” said TTPS legal advisor Terrence Dick, “we tried to remove people already and the court said we were going about it the wrong way”.

It was revealed at the JSC by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services that there are 219 street dwellers in the capital.