With the prospect of hurricane Isaac affecting Barbados in two days time, president of the Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society (BVHS) Kemar Saffrey is slamming the failure of successive Governments to establish policy for protecting the homeless during natural disasters.
He argued that unlike metropolitan countries Barbados has for years left its homeless to fend for themselves during natural disasters.
“One of the things I have seen in countries like the United States and England is that once the country goes below zero [degrees] all homeless persons must come off the street, even if they are taken off by force. In Barbados, successive Governments have not put any policy in place which would mandate that the homeless must be taken off the street,” Saffrey pointed out.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference held this morning at the BVHS office at Baxter’s Road, The City, Saffrey explained that the homeless in Bridgetown are especially vulnerable due to the fact that most of the areas where they usually sought shelter in case of inclement weather were now closed off.
“At the moment there is no real covering in Bridgetown. They [the homeless] used to look at the Treasury Building as a place to shelter but now that is blocked off. The old NIS [National Insurance Scheme] is also blocked off and the old Fairchild Street Market no longer has a roof. Last year we had to literally drive about whenever there was a storm warning to pick up persons and bring them back to our office,” said Saffrey, who revealed that sometimes the homeless found it difficult to get into the emergency shelters because of their mental state and appearance.
The BVHS president pleaded with Government to assist his organization with the establishment of a shelter within The City limits. The BVHS also requested that their organization be considered among the essential services so that they could continue to assist the homeless in the case of a national shutdown.
“If you saying that in the case of a national shutdown persons must not be on the street, then what is the provision for the homeless? There are not many shelters within Bridgetown and we need someplace where they can be safe and be looked after by persons professionally trained to do so.
“We have identified a place for the homeless and we are just awaiting approval for the relevant Government agencies as well as the drawdown of funding from the funding agencies. Once we could get these things done, we can move ahead immediately to have this building retrofitted to house about 60 men and women,” he revealed.
In its general election manifesto, the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) pledged to work closer with Non-Governmental Organizations to cater to the needs of the homeless. This morning Saffrey told reporters that all indications point to the Mia Mottley administration keeping that promise but noted that time was not on the side of the homeless as the country was in the middle of yet another active hurricane season.