As Government forges ahead with its plan to protect those most susceptible to the deadly Coronavirus, the head of the island’s lone advocacy group for the homeless, says he is concerned that his clients have been left to fend for themselves.
In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, head of the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness (BAEH) Kemar Saffrey explained that a plan for the homeless was critical to any effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
He noted that not only were homeless persons just as exposed as frontline workers, as they were likely to approach tourists while begging for cash, but they were also likely to be an infected group that slips under the radar of testing.
“We have a population that is most vulnerable and could be carriers of the disease. These are not persons that would run to the hospital or think they should go to the hospital. These are not the persons to go and quarantine themselves or call the hotline. These are the persons that will tell themselves that they are going to fight it out. They might get a cough and not know that they have it because they believe they just caught a cold,” said Saffrey.
He added, “You cannot keep saying that the vulnerable population is at risk but yet you are leaving out the most vulnerable. I am fully in support of having plans for the elderly, the disabled and children, but you must also say what is the plan for persons on the street. They are the ones that would be walking about the place and touching everything.”
The BAEH head lamented that while Government has met with various stakeholders in the fight against the global pandemic, which has drawn closer to the country in recent weeks, there has been no effort to engage groups that work with the homeless.
“I applaud the Government regarding the initiative that it has taken so far but you must involve the correct stakeholders. I shouldn’t have to rely solely on what I read on PAHO’s [Pan American Health Organisation] website to equip my organisation with the necessary information. I have been in contact with other homeless associations across the world and they have been included in their country’s plans to contain the spread of the virus. What is our national plan for the homeless? We don’t want these persons to rally this thing out on the streets,” said Saffrey, who revealed that there were about 250 persons living on the streets.
He noted that in the meantime his association was doing what it could to keep the homeless safe, through education and distributing free hand sanitizers. He also told Barbados TODAY that should Government require it, the BAEH’ shelter which has 90 beds could be used as a temporary isolation centre for uninfected homeless persons.
“I have 90 beds at the shelter, and I have already gone ahead and put additional sanitary stuff in place. I am not a quarantine centre and I don’t know what the steps are to operate as such, but if the Government wishes to use the facility as an isolation centre or any other purpose, I am open to it. If and when the first case comes and I am asked to get as many of the homeless off the street, they can stay there so that they can stay away from the public. I don’t want it to be a case of COVID-19 already spreading then I am asked to put myself and my staff at risk,” Saffrey stressed.
He also revealed that mass feedings were likely to be discontinued should the virus reach Barbadian shores. Instead, feeding would take place from inside a building where persons would be required to enter one at a time.