Amid all the big and small happenings in Barbados this week, one development, perhaps missed by most and dismissed by some, leaves us with some startling truths and timely lessons.
A moving tribute published on social media revealed that a familiar street character in Bridgetown, Gordon Alexander Best, has died.
No big deal, some may suggest; people lose loved ones every day. Death is as an unwanted a part of life as it is inevitable for us all.
But more than announce his passing, the post opened a window to a stark view of the way we treat the homeless.
Gordon walked the length of Broad Street or Swan Street persistently begging for a dollar or two to buy food. He was not a noisy nuisance, given to menace, threats, abuse of violence. For his pains, some gave in, on other occasions, he was chased away or merely passed – all understandable reactions as each encounter forced us to face up to our own difficult and personal questions.
Homelessness is unhealthy, dangerous and a tragic waste of human potential.
Often times City pedestrians may have seen Gordon’s unkempt hair and ragged clothes and written him off.
But we should not judge a book by its cover, and Gordon’s story as revealed by his sister is all the more evidence that homelessness is a scourge, homeless people are not human stains.
Patricia Trotman has told us that her beloved brother, an educated father of two, was introduced to a life of drugs and to the streets by friends.
And while the family always provided its love and support in bid to get Gordon to turn his life around, his drug addiction was stronger.
She told Barbados TODAY: “We came out from a very good home and had good standards, principles and morals. And it was sad to see Gordon like that.
“On many occasions, we tried to bring him home.
“My mom even got a house and furnished it and give it to him.
“He stayed in it for about three months and then after that he and his friends from the streets took everything out and sold it and he was back on the streets.
“But we never left him out.
“We would go into town, he would hug you, he would kiss you and people would pass and want to know why you letting him touch you and hug you.
“My family looked out for him. He was loved.”
This tragic story leaves us to wonder how many more Gordons are wandering the streets of The City, and ask, is one not enough for action?
We can choose to see the Gordons on our streets as wasted lives or as human beings in need of a helping hand.
The easy thing to do is turn a blind eye to homelessness. But we can’t continue to ignore the human beings caught in its grasp, to wish them away, or to even give in to the idea that homelessness is a problem that can never be fixed.
Gordon’s death should give us fresh impetus to seek and find humane solutions to a very human problem.
Thanks to the work of the Barbados Vagrants & Homeless Society (BVHS), the Salvation Army, other churches and service groups, we are on the way but there is so much more to be done.
First, families have a critical role to play in the fight against homelessness.
It is important to point out that while Gordon fell victim to drug abuse, he was not abandoned by his family.
Families still have a responsibility to reach out to loved ones who stumble and fall to drug dependency and seek professional help as far as possible to help them get their lives back on track.
We can also give more to help meet the needs of those who need help. Both the BVHS and the Salvation Army have been raising funds to build shelters. Let’s all give generously.
Overall, though, as the BVHS has persistently said, Barbados needs a new national initiative to end homelessness.
We need a clear, coherent, strong public policy that would direct people to available shelter beds, to special spaces to recover while intoxicated, to services that combat hunger and addiction and to long-term programmes that can move some if not all of the homeless into employment and a better life.
We mourn Gordon’s death. It need not be vain.
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