Help is on the way for 74-year-old Verbena Rowena Shepherd, who has been living in a rancid, decaying, rat-infested home provided by the National Assistance Board (NAB) 25 years ago.
An NAB team headed by Chairman David Durant had a first-hand look at the severity of Shepherd’s plight when they paid her a visit this morning.
The small wooden house, on the verge of collapse, has no electricity and no running water, and the Prerogative, St George pensioner must venture out to the neighbourhood standpipe or next door for water for a bath and to do her laundry.
Bottles are haphazardly stored in the backyard, which serves as Shepherd’s bathroom and makeshift kitchen, which contains nothing but a coal pot.
However, this has become a major concern due to an infestation of wood ants.
“I’m getting scared of fire because I use fire to cook with and can’t use wood . . . because a wood ants nest is underneath the fire, one in the toilet and one outside [in the backyard],” the former bottle collector told Barbados TODAY.
The entrance to the lodging is laden with dirty clothes, grimy containers and garbage. It is not easy to manoeuvre, as Shepherd’s possessions line the walkway and are stacked up to the ceiling. Inside is filled with old clothes, plastic bags with her possessions and droppings from the rats that have made her house their home.
Visibly upset by these conditions, the mother of seven revealed that she had approached the Rural Development Corporation (RDC) and the National Housing Corporation (NHC) for help and had received no more than a curt response or told to wait.
“I went as far as Rural [RDC] down St Peter. I travelled from St Michael to St Peter and they never took me on. I here now waiting on a call from Rural. I don’t know how long that will take me.
“I even offered to the NHC [National Housing Corporation] that if they want . . . I would buy one and then they could tell me where to carry the rent and I would carry it,” she revealed.
Shepherd said she has seven children, all of whom were aware of her dreadful living conditions, but none had come to her aid.
“I love them but them don’t love me,” she said gravely.
After viewing Shepherd’s living conditions, Durant said he was appalled, describing the house as “horrifying” and a “health hazard”.
“The toilet and bath facilities are atrocious. As an elderly person . . . I think it is imperative that we make a move to try to ease her living conditions so that she can continue to age with a sense of dignity,” he said.
The NAB chairman expressed shock at the trash and rat droppings in Shepherd’s room, saying, “It is not healthy and it is not safe for her. That is a health hazard and I’m wondering how come she hasn’t contracted some disease by now.
“I will not see a family living in these conditions and don’t agitate. Even if you can’t help, try to seek help and it is unfortunate that it has to come to this, where she has deteriorated to this level of living and has family around,” Durant said of the lack of assistance from Shepherd’s children.
The Government senator promised that a plan was in motion to assist the elderly woman, explaining that the NAB was unaware of her predicament as the housing programme was RDC’s responsibility.
“Yes, it was a house given by the National Assistance Broad 25 years ago, but since then we have been out of the housing programme since 2003. Therefore, this part of the housing aspect is no longer under our jurisdiction, so Rural is more responsible for this now and this therefore was off our radar for the longest while,” he disclosed.