By Lara Pickford-Gordon
As the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown continues, the number of persons at the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons (CSDP), Port of Spain has increased. The rehabilitation facility, managed by the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) offers temporary residence and meals to homeless and socially displaced at the former NIPDEC car park, Town Council Street, Port of Spain.
SVP President Angelique Taylor said for the period March 1 to April 13, 12 persons were newly admitted. Former residents have also been returning to the Centre for accommodation.
Taylor said, the CSDP had 144 persons and the number housed “is expected to increase in the coming month/s in light of the COVID stay-at-home order. Red Cross will be conducting the screening of the residents”. Persons with any pre-existing conditions will be transferred to a medical facility for treatment. The facility had space for more than 50 persons.
Additional lodging is available through a temporary shelter constructed on the ground floor. This was done by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services in conjunction with the Port of Spain Corporation and other stakeholders.
Taylor said it is part of the government’s response to protect vulnerable citizens especially the homeless. The shelter caters for 62 persons. She said from her visit, both males and females can be accommodated, and the space is outfitted with separate portable toilets and bathrooms. There is a dining area, and laundry sinks.
The shelter was erected by army personnel, and the keys handed over April 9 when the infrastructure was done. There are currently 13 males and 1 female. Their temperatures were taken when they were registered.
Taylor said the SVP was approached to provide janitorial, security and supervisory personnel to operate the shelter. A proposal was “favourably received” by the Ministry and an official Service Level Agreement is expected to be signed in a few days.
Support from government, private sector
Commenting on the SVP’s role during the lockdown she said the Vincentian ethos and philosophy is to serve the poorest of the poor and it continues to provide services to persons who are homeless and socially displaced at CSDP. The Centre is open to anyone willing to leave the streets and seek alternative accommodations.
Taylor said residents can leave for work or errands and other activities, but upon re-entry, must adhere to sanitary procedures in keeping with COVID-19 precautionary measures.
The SVP has received cots from the Social Development ministry and thermometers from the Health Ministry. As part of its continued collaboration The Foundation for the Enhancement and Enrichment of Life (FEEL) donated clothing, hygiene packages, bed sheets and some Personal Protective Equipment. “We are grateful for their donation,” Taylor said.
She added that the SVP looks forward to more supplies from the private sector and other non-governmental organisations and entities, for example the Kiwanis Club and Guardian General Insurance Ltd.
The ministry has informed SVP that the corporate sector would donate food items for the first month of the new shelter and the Society is ready to prepare meals from its daily meals’ kitchen on Duncan Street. Taylor said persons have offered to assist in the kitchen to relieve the kitchen staff preparing meals for the increasing number of residents at CSDP.
While there is no law to force persons to leave the streets, Taylor said, “we trust persons find their way to the shelter once the word gets around”. They will be asked to comply with basic rules of the facility.
“It is to be noted that the shelter is a temporary initiative of the Government and no permanent residency is to be anticipated.”
She said there were many “valid” reasons people end up living on the streets including family disputes due to court matters or other underlying social factors and family want them removed from the family property. Families also dissociate themselves from persons because of previous breaches of the law and having been incarcerated for illegal drug possession.
She said homelessness results from social issues: substance abuse, deportation, and HIV positive status. Although clients are to transition from the CSDP, they remain at the CSDP for extended periods because they cannot even afford low-cost housing.
Taylor anticipated an increased demand for space with the release of inmates.
The State has announced certain prisoners—persons incarcerated for non-violent offences, or who could not access bail—would be released to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Up to April 27, there were reports of the virus in prisons.
Taylor commended the government initiative for the homeless with the new shelter however, she said the SVP is looking at a more meaningful and sustainable approach to reduce and prevent the homeless from regressing to their previous way of life.
She explained, “This will include fostering stronger and closer private partnership, government assistance and more importantly input from the Church to provide counselling and psychosocial support for the development of our vulnerable citizens”.