Government officials are being urged to back up recent promises on the issue of mental health issues with action by assembling a national task force in the wake of last week’s double homicide allegedly carried out by a homeless vagrant at Bishop’s Court, St Michael.
President of the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness (BAEH) Kemar Saffrey, while on Starcom Network’s Down to Brass Tacks Sunday programme, complained that critical recommendations and requests made to successive governments on a number of lingering issues have been left unanswered.
“We sent a letter to the previous government who ignored it and we have sent another letter to the current government to set up a national task force on mental illness that would comprise numerous organizations like the Psychiatric Hospital, the [BAEH], the Welfare Department, the National Assistance Board (NAB), the Childcare Board and the Ministry of Health,” Saffrey said.
“We have identified a number of agencies that would play a key role including the prisons, Verdun House, and other organizations that have all interacted with homelessness at some level.”
The BAEH president explained that the task force would comprise an array of organizations that deal directly with the plight of homeless and/or mentally ill people to influence government policy.
“The Prime Minister also mentioned the issue of mental health, which shows that at the level of leadership, there is a concern,” Saffrey also pointed out.
While extending condolences to the media fraternity on the passing of 25-year-old photojournalist Christoff Griffith, who was killed last Monday along with Guyanese contractor Glenroy James, Prime Minister Mottley stressed the need for issues of mental health to be addressed.
“We have to come to grips with mental health in this country. We cannot continue to push it under the carpet. We need to discuss it in our families, we need to discuss it in our workplaces and publicly,” she said during a press conference on Friday.
In the wake of last Monday’s double homicide, Saffrey stressed that oftentimes law enforcement officials are reluctant to take violent mentally unstable vagrants off the streets until they have already committed offences.
“I think that we are a little bit laid back as it relates to when we make recommendations for persons to be removed from the streets. They are not being moved off the streets and taken into a mental institution where they are taken care of until they are brought under control. They have to be removed off the streets once they pose a threat to the public or to themselves and that is the first step,” Saffrey said.
In response, Minister of Health and Wellness Jeffrey Bostic promised that his ministry would be examining the current protocols for managing homeless people with mental health issues and expressed a willingness to establish a “homeless body”. (KS)