San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello will take a proposal to the city council next week, seeking an agreement to pay $6,000 in fines imposed on street dwellers last Saturday.
San Fernando police issued tickets to six street dwellers along Harris Promenade for breaching the Public Health (2019-nCoV) Regulation, 2020 by failing to wear a face mask in a public place. Each ticket carries a fine of $1000. During a meeting with senior Southern Division officers at his City Hall office yesterday, Regrello said the council would use money from the Mayor’s Fund, which is for charitable donations.
“The Mayor’s office, through the Mayor’s Fund, will take care of those six persons. I think it would be unfair to ask the police to rescind on that charge because the law is the law. They have to do their work, and this is a sensitive matter. We are not setting precedence here because the law is the law. They have to adhere to the law,” Regrello said.
He said some of the street dwellers expose themselves to school children. One of them has three pending charges in the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court. Regrello said that person was a recipient of care at the San Fernando Shelter for the Socially Displaced, and management asked him to leave because of interference with others. He also spent some time at Court Shamrock. Another street dweller, who the US deported several years ago, has an address in Pleasantville but sleeps on Mucurapo Street.
Regrello said this was by choice, although he has access to nightly accommodation at the shelter.
Snr Supt Yusuf Gaffar said police previously issued face masks to the street dwellers. He clarified that those who received tickets were not homeless, and all had home addresses.
“We have a duty of care to members of the public to ensure that COVID does not get out of hand and spread,” Gaffar said.
ASP Ali Mohammed maintained that the officers did not charge any homeless people. Mohammed said police patrolled the Promenade and warned street dwellers about wearing masks. He said people leaving the San Fernando General Hospitals informed the officers of the risk.
“While the officers were on patrols, people who were leaving the hospital and going toward their taxi stands informed the officers that these people (street dwellers) were coughing, they were hacking and spitting. I would have acted in the same manner,” Mohammed said.
He said since they issue tickets, most of the street dwellers are wearing masks. Although the police previously gave out face masks, he said they did not give out any since Saturday, meaning that the street dwellers had face masks but were not wearing any.
Regrello, Gaffar, Mohammed and ASP Andrew John then walked the Promenade, distributing masks to the homeless for another time. Robert “Bobby” Cato, who received a ticket on Saturday, said that after he got the fixed penalty notice, he folded it and put in into a post box.
“I cannot pay for that,” Cato said, adding that he is living on the streets for the past six years. While he had an address in Marabella, he said he is homeless.
When police approached, Cato was sleeping on the ground of the Promenade. The police approach scared him, but it was to give him a face mask. He told reporters that it was the first masks he got since COVID-19 reached T&T. He said when the officers asked him for his face mask on Saturday, he told them he did not have one.