Growing up in Lightfoot Lane, the City, Pastor Steve Skeete was used to seeing people around him battle with alcohol addiction. In fact, he also had friends who were alcoholics.
“Almost everybody drank alcohol,” Skeete told Barbados TODAY.
It was no surprise, therefore, when Skeete began Street Gospel Ministries in 2004 to assist individuals battling substance abuse.
“Our emphasis on housing and helping men who are homeless, it started in 2004 and it started basically out of need. We started out as wanting to help people,” he said.
“Most of the people we saw at that time tended to be older people. People in their 50s and 60s and some who had obvious difficulties – mental difficulties and so on – and we felt we could help. That’s what motivated us,” he said.
But in the ministry’s 13 years of operation, Skeete has seen a change in demographic, with more young people seeking assistance.
“You can get people as young as 18 who are on the streets for one reason or the other. So, that’s a trend that we’re seeing. Most of the people who are on the streets are people who are dislocated from their families.
“For instance, you may have people in prison, and they’re leaving and they’re unable to go back to their relatives and families for whatever reason – difficulties that led to them going to prison, trouble with their families before – [so] there is dislocation. . . . Other times you have to work through with men, help them find work, help them to get an education, and get them to a point where they can begin to help themselves.”
They also offer counselling services three times a week at First Baptist Church on Constitution Road, to individuals battling substance abuse who were referred to them by various agencies.
“We have changed our focus. Rather than going directly to people on the streets we decided at one time to take people coming through agencies. . . .There are several agencies in Barbados that deal with homeless people and so we get referrals directly from them, whether it is drug rehab, whether it is prison, churches, sometimes individuals or within the community,” Skeete said.
He noted that drug use is very pervasive in Barbados and needs urgent attention.
“Drugs have become a common thing. There’s a lot of smoking [of marijuana] going on, and a lot of abuse of alcohol. Sometimes people find themselves unable to cope and after a time they get themselves into other difficulties.
“Most young people present with some drug problem. Our job is to ensure they first get into rehab and have that sorted out as a primary need, and then they come back to us,” he stated.
He added that his ministry is also seeking to assist members of the public with a number of other issues.
“There are lots of needs in the community; we are just one agency trying to help. People need help getting themselves together in all kinds of ways. And it’s not only drug problems. People have trouble with their children, people are having domestic difficulties . . . but with the younger group, the problems are usually drug-related.”
He noted that the programmes of Street Gospel Ministries are very practical, and seek to address the immediate needs of individuals. They also refer individuals to get professional help at institutions such as the Psychiatric Hospital or Verdun House.
“For us . . . marijuana is pretty widespread. It’s almost the drug of choice for the young people. There’s still a lot of cocaine addiction as well and, of course, alcohol is freely used in the community. You cannot say any one of them is easy to deal with, they’re all problems in the lives of people who come to us,” he said.
The issue of substance abuse is being highlighted as Barbados joins in the observance of Drug Awareness Month.