Expect homelessness to skyrocket due to the vexing austerity Budget presented by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler last month.
That is the conviction of President of the Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society (BVHS) Kemar Saffrey, who is predicting a 150 per cent rise in the number of homeless people in the coming months.
Saffrey is contending that the steep rise in the onerous National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) – from two per cent to ten per cent – and the two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions announced by Sinckler in the May 30 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals will drive many Barbadians below the poverty line.
As a result, he forecasted that in very little time some 1,000 people, mostly women and children, will be forced out of their homes and reduced to living on the streets.
“I predict that that we are going to hit the 1,000 mark very soon because if you do the math on the rate of increase from now to the end of the year it is not that far-fetched.
“The most hurtful part is that children, youth and women are going to feature prominently in that increase because even though [traditionally] the men always had high numbers, these three groups are even more vulnerable. Right now I have people sleeping on the street that are actually pregnant. So we are in for a serious problem,” warned Saffrey, who was a participant in this morning’s Global Shapers’ panel discussion on national issues at the Olympus Theatre at Sheraton Mall.
The BVHS founder had earlier said there were about 40 people known to have been displaced when he began working with the homeless in 2007, but between 2012 and last year, 411 people had sought the services of the local charitable foundation which works to re-integrate vagrants and homeless people into mainstream Barbadian society. Saffrey was convinced that the struggling economy was to blame for the increase, which represents a rate of three new homeless people each month.
And he said Sinckler’s plan to tackle the deficit by seeking to raise $542 million in taxes would inevitably result in even greater displacement.
“We have increased taxes, we have added new measures that would affect households and possibly result in unemployment. If you send home a man that is the breadwinner of a household that has five other persons, it is not one person who is at risk, it is all five persons that can end up with nowhere to live. So when Government enacts policies I honestly don’t think that they look at the most vulnerable persons,” an impassioned Saffrey stated.
The homeless persons advocate further accused the Freundel Stuart administration of being out of touch with the gravity of things to come, stressing that no measures were put in place to cushion the impact upon the most vulnerable members of society when the taxes take effect on Saturday.
It was about two weeks ago, after Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett sought to blame the Opposition Barbados Labour Party for the start of vagrancy here, that Saffrey had implored Government not to use the homeless to score cheap political points.
Today, he dismissed as a “joke”, the $3 million allocated to the Welfare Department to assist the disadvantaged, arguing it was hardly enough to meet the demands of those already awaiting welfare assistance, and would hardly scratch the surface given the anticipated increase in vagrancy.
“We need to desperately look at the most vulnerable to see how we are going to help them. It is not about putting
$3 million more to welfare.
“Now ask yourself a question: if the Government already has a backlog of people requiring welfare assistance, you really think the ones that now coming onto the streets are going to get the assistance before those that were in the system before? The $3 million is really no benefit to anybody,” Saffrey charged.