Amid all the hype about the announcement of the May 24 general election, a worrying development worthy of our attention fell by the wayside.
Last week, President of the Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society (BVHS) Kemar Saffrey took to the airwaves to report that a member of the homeless community was severely beaten in Independence Square, The City.
The elderly male, according to Saffrey, was beaten by a group of men with a two-by-four.
Fortunately, the BVHS was able to provide treatment to the victim, whom Saffrey said, was afraid to seek help at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for fear of being rejected since he was homeless.
Such incidents are not as uncommon as we may think. They are just not reported.
One street dweller told this media house, “the same group of young boys throw rocks at vagrants all the time.
“To them it is a fun time, they think it is real funny, real sporty, but to us it is a serious matter.”
One woman, who did not want to be identified by name, agreed, saying that apart from having to worry about things such as food and shelter, security was an issue. She relayed the grim tale of a recent incident involving a homeless woman who was “chopped”.
Such attacks are shameful and inhumane and should not be taken lightly. We urge our law enforcers to seek out the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
However, frankly speaking, addressing homelessness has hardly been a priority in this country.
Barring the efforts of Saffrey, the Salvation Army, churches and other humanitarian groups, the social ill is virtually ignored.
As a matter of a fact when most of us walk the streets or drive by in our air-conditioned vehicles, we often turn a blind eye to those lying on the pavement or huddled in a corner.
Sometimes, if we are moved enough, we might give a few pennies or a meal.
Most times, however, we are quick to point fingers and pass judgment on those who find themselves living on the streets.
But the fact is homelessness is a complex issue that can result from multiple factors including a breakdown in family relations, mental health problems, drug or alcohol dependence and we have to make it our business to tackle the problem and not leave it to the BHVS.
It is simply not acceptable to allow people to stay in squalor, sleep in doorways, parks or bus shelters without addressing the underlying issues that prevent them from having a roof over their heads and stability in their lives.
While, there may always be a handful of people who prefer to tough it out on the streets by hook or crook, a greater effort must be made to help these people truly help themselves.
Back in January, Saffrey called on political parties contesting the general election to make a pledge to stamp out homelessness for good.
He presented a Homeless manifesto to the parties designed to facilitate the care and protection of the more than 100 homeless people said to be living on the streets. But to date we are yet to hear the response.
The issue rightfully deserves some attention.
Saffrey has repeatedly called for the provision of shelter for the homeless and indeed the BVHS is in the process of establishing a safe place.
It should not be the sole responsibility of the BVHS.
Authorities must step up to the plate and lend all available support financial and otherwise to provide shelter for those who live on the streets.
Housing solutions should also be accompanied by a personalized package of support –through the established benefits systems, such as the Welfare Department and the National Insurance Scheme – to ensure people stay off the streets and have meaningful lives.