by Kimberley Cummins
Feeding homeless and vagrants in the island’s capital is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for one of the main NGOs trying to get them off the streets.
And Director of the Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society, Kemar Saffrey, is pleading with the various organisations that carry out these voluntary acts to come together to create a more organised feeding roster.
Saffrey told Barbados TODAY this afternoon from his Ramsgate, Bay Street, the City headquarters that some of the feeding programmes were actually turning out to be a hindrance to true reintegration.
The young man, whose organisation’s aim is to assist the homeless through various programmes with an effort to reintegrate them into society, said that their efforts were being threatened significantly.
Stating that he was not petitioning for feeding programmes to be stopped in general, he said that many people were now willing to remain on the streets because they had access to most resources.
“When we first started feeding … we would ask the guys ‘Who wants to come off the streets?’ You would see 50 guys come because they weren’t receiving much feeding on the street. Now all of these feeding groups come up … and you have feeding everyday so when we make a call ‘Who wants to come off the streets?’ you are hardly seeing 10 guys or five guys that would make up a programme,” he said.
“Our aim here is not [only] to feed vagrants, we are here to rehabilitate persons. If you look at it, they are feeding but they are supporting the habit of them being on the street because once a man is fed that is the most important thing.
“When I first started, we started out feeding but then I saw that feeding was supporting a habit. One day I gave ‘George’ some food and he said to me ‘See why I don’t have to go back into the country? Because I get feed everyday’. That in itself is what triggered me to stop with the feeding but as an organisation we must because that is the only way you will reach them,” he said.
He maintained: “We have to do our work and if it means going on the street, then we are not … going to do it. We really are against the everyday feeding. We do it because it is a must for us; it is a way that we get to connect with these guys in a group setting and let them know that the organisation is here to help.”
“We can sit down here in our office and expect John or Paul to come, but that is not going to happen. It happens by us going out, pulling them in,” said Saffrey, who was recently awarded a Commonwealth service award for his organisation’s work.
The 24-year-old said he reached out to all the feeders by mailing them letters requesting that feedings were cut to at least three to four days, however, he only received response from two interested organisations. The others, he said,† believed “in doing it how they are doing it”.
“Not taking away from what they are doing because it is a good thing, but they say they are touching people. Some feeders say they are feeding up to 180 people but they are not.. I went to one feeding group and they are guys taking off their shirts, being fed, then put it back on … people are posing as vagrants.
“This type of enabling we would like to stop. The feeding is no longer geared at who can afford it, it caters to who come in the line to get a meal and no one is questioning it.
“When persons come into our line and we never see you before, we ask ‘sir, ma’am are you a vagrant? or you homeless?’ explain your situation. If you say not we ask you to step aside. We might not deny you the meal but we make sure that everyone who really needs it, gets it first. I do not want to cut down the feeding to starve the vagrants but if we don’t come together this thing will get worst.” [email protected]
by Kimberley Cummins