In the course of our daily lives it is easy, almost expected, that we will look at the negatives around us and almost automatically come up with a first reaction that will include searching for someone to whom we will attach blame. Blaming is almost second nature to us!
And when we take that approach it is easy to find a never-ending list of things for which someone must be blamed. Perhaps however, if we paused to engage in a deeper analysis it might lead us to place greater emphasis on contributing to solutions.
It certainly is more productive. We readily accept though that in arriving at solutions, at some juncture we very likely will have to point a finger at the cause — but at that time it will be as part of a solution.
The preamble to our point really relates to the growing problem of homelessness in our community, and the fact that it appears to be mushrooming within a reaction at the national level that suggests we appreciate there is a problem that must be addressed at the macro level.
So far our response has largely been at the NGO level, with non-profit agencies such as Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society and the Salvation Army taking the lead in providing meals. It appears to us though, that as a nation we have not yet come to grips with the reality that we must find a solution to the core problem, which at one level is homelessness.
Feeding those who live on our streets and occasionally providing the facilities for them to take a bath — other than in the fountain in Heroes Square — will certainly make their daily lives marginally more healthy, but it will not put a roof over their heads.
It must be accepted that the factors that have driven so many Barbadians on to the streets are many, ranging from family disputes and job loss to drug addiction, and that therefore no single approach will end their nightly sharing of bus shelters, park benches, city sidewalks, vendors’ stalls and so many other unsuitable places with the vermin the rest of us try so hard to avoid.
But it is hardly likely that finding a solution could be so complex that we do not have the intellectual capital in Barbados to at least appear to be starting the process. There was a time when the titles “homeless” and “street character” meant the same thing and we could identify all who held the label by some name.
Today, they are everywhere — in Bridgetown, Speightstown, Holetown, Oistins and even in our residential communities — and it seems that with every new trip there is a new face or two. If we do not act we are going to be overwhelmed. We certainly can’t wait until we reach the point of some other regional capitals where any shopping trip must include stepping over the outstretch feet, or bodies, of the homeless.
We recognise that to mention something might not be appropriate for a tourist destination can at time offend those who seem to think we should not make such references, but like it or not we are a tourist destination and we must cater to our guests. There is something very unwelcoming about streets that are over populated with homeless people — and while we may have to put up with them, our guests are under no such obligation.
It would be less than charitable or encouraging to be dismissive of the work being done by NGOs with the homeless, but our view is that this must be led by the appropriate state agencies to ensure there is a holistic and sustainable approach. Right now, we can see no evidence to suggest there is one.