Ad­dress­ing the com­plex, lin­ger­ing prob­lem of street dwellers

Stabroek News Sunday - - WEEKEND MAGAZINE -

It is an early mid-morn­ing and 50-year-old An­drew Allen is calmly re­mov­ing the cop­per from small pieces of elec­tri­cal wire, which he plans to sell. It is a painstak­ing task and it is ob­vi­ous that it will take a while, but he con­tin­ues any­way. “I usu­ally sell it for $200 a pound and some­times I just get half a pound so is $100 I would get,” he told the Sun­day Stabroek when ap­proached as he sat on the pave­ment at the cor­ner of Camp Street and North Road.

He does not look up from his task as he speaks freely to this news­pa­per.

Allen shared that he also works in the vicin­ity of the Bourda Mar­ket with ven­dors and he makes a “lit­tle money.”

Allen has been liv­ing on the streets for the past 12 years since he was de­ported from the United States for the of­fence of be­ing in pos­ses­sion of an il­le­gal firearm.

“I don’t have no rel­a­tives here,” he said. “Some­times my brother from over­seas would come and look for me… ”

Asked if he had ever vis­ited the Night Shel­ter, Allen re­sponded in the neg­a­tive and asked for the lo­ca­tion. But when it was given to him, he said it was “too far.”

“And what they have there?” he en­quired, though he seemed not too keen on hear­ing that he would have some­where to sleep at night. “I need some­where with a job pro­gramme to help me find a job, that is what I need,” he an­swered, still gath­er­ing his cop­per wire.

There are many like him liv­ing on the streets of Ge­orge­town and there seems to be no clear pro­gramme geared at ad­dress­ing what is a grow­ing prob­lem.

There seemed to be some hope when the Na­tional Task Force Com­mis­sion (NTFC) for the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, Restora­tion and Re­newal of Guyana had an­nounced ini­tially that part of its man­date was to re­lo­cate the home­less, ad­dicts and the men­tally ill from the streets.

In fact, its brochure does state wel­fare man­age­ment of the home­less and ad­dicted as part of its man­date but ac­cord­ing to Head of the NTFC’s sec­re­tar­iat Dr Sew­nauth Pu­nalall the com­mis­sion is re­spon­si­ble as far as un­en­cum­ber­ing of busy streets by street dwellers, but does not have the per­son­nel to deal with their re­moval and man­age­ment. This task, he said, falls to the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion.

For­mer chair­man of the NTFC Ma­jor Gen­eral (rtd) Joseph Singh, who is still to be re­placed since he stepped away from the vol­un­tary po­si­tion, had an­nounced that when the Hugo Chavez Cen­tre at West Ber­bice was up and run­ning the com­mis­sion would have worked closely with the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion to see how many per­sons could have been re­lo­cated there.

A pi­lot pro­gramme was ex­pected to be car­ried out in Ge­orge­town, which would have in­formed what hap­pened in other areas.

More than 90

Ac­cord­ing to Pu­nalall, the pro­gramme was held and more than 90 per­sons were picked up and taken to the com­pound of the Ge­orge­town Pub­lic Hospi­tal (GPH) where var­i­ous pro­fes­sion­als dealt with them. He said some were treated and rein­te­grated into their fam­i­lies, but others re­turned to the streets.

Those who were sick were re­ferred to the GPH for treat­ment and some were hos­pi­tal­ized after screen­ing. It was found that some had been aban­doned by their fam­i­lies be­cause they were sick, while others wanted to live on the street; and then there were those who were men­tally ill. There were also some per­sons who were just too poor to find a home of their own.

This is the case of Allen and another street dweller who de­clined to give her name. They both ex­pressed the need to find a job and some­where to live but found it dif­fi­cult to rid them­selves of the of hard-knock life.

“You think I want to live on the street? Is can’t help mek I deh hay, no­body have no time with me,” the woman an­swered when asked about liv­ing on the street.

She said she has been on the streets “for years” but wanted to a “place to live.” As ex­pected she was dirty and di­sheveled, but like Allen did not ap­pear to be hooked on any sub­stance.

Pu­nalall said they also found those who were on the streets for “com­mer­cial pur­poses” and there were those who were crim­i­nally minded. The lat­ter two groups may have got­ten caught up be­cause the pro­gramme was ex­e­cuted dur­ing the night and they would have re­moved them­selves dur­ing the day un­like Allen and many others who do not have that op­tion.

A fol­low-up sur­vey done with street dwellers this year found that there was a slight de­crease in the num­bers, but un­like last year there was no real in­ter­ven­tion aimed at re­mov­ing them. The sur­vey was done over a three-day pe­riod dur­ing the evenings and the num­bers var­ied on df­fer­ent days. The sur­vey was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort by the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion and the Mayor and City Coun­cil.

“The prob­lem has been a lin­ger­ing one,” Pu­nalall said. “We need to find a lo­ca­tion, prob­a­bly out­side of Ge­orge­town [to ac­com­mo­date the street dwellers].” He said that the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion was look­ing into this.

He pointed out that while there are va­grants there are also ven­dors who spend most of their days and nights on the streets. He gave the ex­am­ple of a man who had built a shack on a busy cor­ner. It was bro­ken down and re­moved, but a few days later the man re­built the shack and was back in it.

For him the prob­lem is more com­plex than how it is seen which in­cludes the street dwellers be­com­ing re­sis­tant when at­tempts are made to re­move them.

This might be the case even with Allen as he in­di­cated that he is not keen on be­ing in a shel­ter, but rather wants to be helped with a job so that he can start tak­ing care of him­self

Asked where he sleeps at night, Allen, his head still bent, said qui­etly “on the streets.” As to whether he has friends, he raised his head in the di­rec­tion of another street dweller and an­swered, “Look one right there.”

His friend was ly­ing on the pave­ment and he ap­peared to be weak at the time. While Allen was dressed in a jersey and pants—al­beit soiled—his friend wore only short pants; nei­ther had any footwear. Shortly after this news­pa­per started to speak with Allen, his friend got up and hob­bled off, lean­ing on a stick.

A car­ton sat in front of Allen and I asked if it con­tained his pos­ses­sions. With­out an­swer­ing, he emp­tied the box item by item, it con­tained a few pieces of cloth­ing, a pair of ladies’ shoes, some empty plas­tic bags and a few other items that did not ap­pear to be func­tional.

“No, I was never mar­ried but I have four chil­dren,” he said when asked if he had a fam­ily.

He knows the names of his chil­dren but has not seen them since he was de­ported 12 years ago.

Look­ing for a chair

The com­mis­sion has been in search of a chair­per­son,

but in the mean­time, it is made up of the sec­re­tar­iat head and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the agen­cies that rep­re­sent the five areas it cov­ers. Apart from the is­sue of the home­less and ad­dicted, the NTFC is also man­dated to ad­dress drainage, solid waste man­age­ment and derelict ve­hi­cle re­moval, traf­fic man­age­ment and sus­tain­able ur­ban phys­i­cal struc­ture.

How­ever, Pu­nalall ex­plained that the com­mis­sion is merely a co­or­di­nat­ing unit rather than an ex­e­cut­ing en­tity.

“We gather in­for­ma­tion then chan­nel it to the ap­pro­pri­ate agen­cies and min­istries for ac­tions to be taken,” he said adding that they work in areas such as the sugar es­tates and would ex­am­ine the in­fras­truc­ture that needs im­prove­ment so that peo­ple’s liveli­hoods can be im­proved.

Once this is done then the in­for­ma­tion is passed on so that these is­sues can be ad­dressed.

One of the high­lights of the com­mis­sion’s work was the vis­its of a team of engi­neers from the Nether­lands, which did some de­tailed work look­ing at the drainage in sev­eral areas in Guyana. They com­piled a re­port, and this is be­ing acted on by the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties.

The com­mis­sion is also overseeing the con­struc­tion of a derelict dump site at Kuru Ku­ruru which is a project it re­ceived a bud­get for. It is also 90% com­pleted and is ex­pected to be ready by year end. This site, it is ex­pected, will ac­cept the many old ve­hi­cles re­moved from the road­ways. The sec­re­tar­iat head pointed out that some of the ve­hi­cles are on re­serves and post a dan­ger to so­ci­ety. It is a pi­lot project for Re­gion Four and could be repli­cated in other areas.

An­drew Allen seated on the pave­ment in front of the In­dian Mon­u­ment Gar­dens at the cor­ner of Camp Street and North Road with all of his worldly pos­ses­sions.

Dr Sew­nauth Pu­nalall

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Guyana

© PressReader. All rights reserved.