Some 30 to 50 tourists from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and further away have passed through the doors of the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness (BAEH) this year, and the hike in the number of those seeking assistance is placing a heavy strain on its financial resources, the charity’s head said Tuesday.
Kemar Saffrey hinted at the possibility of drafting the visitors’ diplomatic representatives to pick up some of the burden of caring for them.
He told journalists: “One of the main reasons for the homelessness is COVID-19 related in itself…. Some persons would have been at hotels and cannot foot the bill any longer and then they find themselves homeless and when they do, they try to reach out to their consuls, they try to reach out to their embassies and in some cases the police are also involved . . . and then we are asked to assist because that person can no longer foot the bill, that person can no longer stay in the hotel and that person now becomes homeless.”
He explained that previously the BAEH sheltered mostly people from neighbouring Caribbean islands but that has changed, as Saffrey disclosed that the homeless shelter now has two visitors from outside the Caribbean in its care.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic started, people were really trapped in Barbados because of countries not letting them back in,” he said. “You were seeing people from Jamaica, Trinidad [and] Guyana. Now I am seeing Europeans more, English people more, we were seeing some US citizens as well. Now the two steady ones that I am constantly seeing are the European and the English.”
He added that the BAEH is ready to assist those in need but there was a “serious cost attached” to the organization housing the tourists, most times on a 24-hour basis. This, he added, is of “serious concern” as it also affected the level of assistance rendered to homeless nationals.
“We then have to operate the shelter as a 24-hour shelter, so we have to bring in security, we have to bring in a counsellor, and we have to cook for them three square meals a day. In some cases, we are transporting them if some have medical conditions,” said Saffrey.
“Most of them cannot pay for their PCR test to be able to fly back out. Also the agencies, the organizations, the embassies or the consulates are not in a position to even pay for their PCR tests or to assist financially in some cases and the person is left homeless in Barbados.
“On an average day, it would cost between $100 and $150 for any one person to stay here. That cost rises when you look at the weeks and weeks of keeping that person it could go higher. Right now, we have about two persons in-house but they have been coming and going.
“We treat them the best but when you have to render that service 24 hours a day the demand is hard on the organization,” Saffrey said as he called on countries, policymaking bodies for consuls, and embassies to better prepare for such contingencies.
“Where are the finances to help those people who are stranded here, that cannot help themselves? Where is the assistance? We understand that some things are beyond reach but we are a year into COVID and we are seeing more and more cases, even with our growing increase of homelessness from our local shores.
“Then we add to that the tourists and that is not fair, that we are being put in that position constantly to support countries and to support their people on a long-term basis. I am saying long term because some people are staying way longer than they should.”
The homelessness advocate issued a call for the diplomatic community to hold talks with his organization in an effort to look at ways to help foreign nationals.
“None of the embassies are without reach in terms of the people we are seeing,” Saffrey told journalists.
“We stand ready to assist, but at the same time, we can only go so far as an organization, obviously, because of the economy and how things are. We are struggling on our own with our own little funding that we have. We need a fix to that situation,” he added. (FW)