The presence of homeless people in our city spaces was once a novelty. The profile of our homeless was represented mainly by people with significant mental health challenges, usually linked to drug addiction or issues such as schizophrenia.
The homeless in our capital city of Bridgetown comprised street characters, often with some larger than life personalities, and they became well known by their various aliases.
Some of these well-known vagrants who formerly comprised the majority of the City’s homeless, included people like Anthony Fitzpatrick Ninja Man Lynch. Given the number of social media videos featuring the street character, one could easily identify him as the most recognised homeless person on the island.
His claim to the Treasury Building became legendary, long before the Inland Revenue (now the Barbados Revenue Authority) vacated the seven-storey government office complex.
This homeless man, like many others, has a propensity for hoarding a range of items scavenged from various places. Emblematic of the chaos homeless people create with unsightly heaps of dirty clothing and other articles, he has turned the City landmark into his unkempt residence.
In 2021, police supervised the flamboyant street character’s eviction from the government building. It took employees of the Sanitation Service Authority nearly an hour to remove mounds of old clothing, plastic bottles and trash he had accumulated at the site.
It would be fair to suggest the island has not addressed the growing problem with the seriousness it deserves. The efforts could be described as tepid at best.
Today, the challenge of homelessness in The City has escalated to the point where many fear it is bordering on a crisis. Ironically, more homeless people are showing up in Bridgetown, as more businesses and shoppers move away from the capital into commercial districts such as Warrens and Welches.
The design of the Treasury Building with large open sections on the ground floor providing shade from the sun and shelter from the rain, has made it a magnet for this vulnerable group.
In addition, as more service organisations and individuals establish feeding programmes in Bridgetown, these humanitarian activities also serve to draw more homeless to the capital.
Feeding the most vulnerable in our society is not solving the underlying fundamental problems. Groups such as the Salvation Army and the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness have been filling a void that is usually led by the state.
As much as society would want to wish away the problem of homelessness in Barbados and not want to admit the gravity of the issue, it is not going away.
What is making citizens more unsettled is the fact that the homeless are not prepared to hide and slink away in shame of their status. Many have accepted that this is going to be their way of life and society can no longer be blinkered to their existence.
Recently, founder of the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness (BAEH) Kemar Saffrey, highlighted the resistance of many homeless to utilise the formal facilities offered by his charity.
According to Saffrey, an “American type of homeless living” was emerging. He called on government to nip it in the bud. People have begun setting up tents under the Constitution River Bridge, sleeping in the abandoned Louis Lynch Secondary School in Whitepark Road and the former Helipad site near the Princess Alice Highway.
“We are seeing different types of homelessness now – almost a foreign type of homelessness . . .. Some of the people who are becoming homeless are deportees and when you see that type of attitude where tents are being pitched under a bridge, that is an American type of homelessness occupying spaces wherever they can,” the advocate and charity worker outlined.
Saffrey has also highlighted the impact of deportees on the island’s homeless numbers as well as migrants who have fallen on hard times and have no local connections to assist them.
It is evidently time for Barbados to recognise that it cannot wish away homelessness and a clear policy has to be articulated for how it will be addressed going forward.