Government is being told that it must not use the homeless to score cheap political points.
President of the Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society (BVHS) Kemar Saffrey is expressing outrage that Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett sought to place the genesis of vagrancy on the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Blackett said in Parliament on Tuesday that the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration had inherited vagrancy from the BLP, prompting Saffrey to issue a stern rebuke.
The BVHS founder said when he began working with the homeless in 2007 there were “about 40 persons who we knew were homeless and that would have been under the Barbados Labour Party administration”.
However, he said since founding the charitable organization two years later, there had been a rise in homelessness, with “411 homeless persons that have passed through our services between 2012 and 2016 and that is under the current DLP administration”.
Therefore, he said, it was not right for the minister to point fingers at the Opposition because the problem has existed under both parties.
Saffrey said several factors, including the state of the economy, job loss, lack of family support, as well as drugs and mental health issues play a role in vagrancy, and the society needed to do more to eradicate the problem.
“We are seeing between two to five persons becoming homeless per week and there is little to nothing being done by the Government. Before we would have seen persons from 38 years old and up, but now we are seeing toddlers with their mothers who are homeless, we are seeing teenagers 16 and 18 years old who are now becoming homeless, more so than the elderly,” Saffrey said.
BLP candidate for St Michael Central Arthur Holder is also taking Blackett to task over the comment, insisting there was no truth to the allegation.
Holder, who narrowly lost to Blackett in the 2013 general election and will challenge him again in the next poll due by the middle of next year, held up a study by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies which showed that 19.5 per cent of Barbadians were living below the poverty in 2010, and asked the minister to tell Barbadians what has occurred since.
“Blackett needs to understand the social dynamics involved in vagrancy. There are a lot of causal links that create vagrancy. You have to examine persons coming out of prison after spending long and inordinate time incarcerated who do not know what to return to, and persons who have been deported and having no connections in Barbados,” said the criminal lawyer who holds a master’s degree in social work from Barry University in Florida and was one of the clinical social workers seeking solutions for vagrancy and homelessness in 1995.
He said the BLP had established the Clyde Gollop Home in Hindsbury Road for vagrants, and acknowledged that the facility had to be expanded under the current administration, arguing this was because there had been a significant increase in the number of vagrants and homeless men here.
Holder also pointed to a rise in the number of women and children now seeking shelter, an increase in requests for support from the Salvation Army and a staggering jump in demand for help from the All Souls Church in Bank Hall, which had set up a soup kitchen “which initially catered to 30 persons, but that number has risen to 130 persons per week”.