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Homelessness a multi-faceted challenge – SVDP President

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVDP), a venerable charitable institution in Trinidad and Tobago, stands as a stalwart in the country’s long history of aiding the impoverished and destitute.

In an interview on the Altos October 20 episode, Nigel Phillip, SVDP National President, offered valuable insights into the organisation’s pivotal role. The intricate issue of homelessness in the nation was also highlighted.

With a legacy dating back 165-166 years, the SVDP consists of 65 conferences scattered across T and T. These conferences are instrumental in raising funds via donations, fundraising activities, and monthly collections from parishes across the country.

The collected funds serve as a lifeline, enabling the organisation to provide critical assistance, including food supplies, rental support, and essential medical provisions to the vulnerable members of society.

He did outline that while there are subventions from the government, they are often not on time. During the Covid period, financial challenges emerged for the Society: “When Covid happened, everything just went all over the place….even though funds are being given for various projects, which we also welcome, sometimes in terms of providing those funds or to assist with those projects, government will pay funding not at a time that they’re supposed to pay. So, if you have to pay staff every month a salary, you may get your government funding or subvention maybe three or four months down the road.”

The scourge of homelessness in T&T, Phillip said, represents a multifaceted challenge with numerous dimensions. The homeless population comprises individuals dealing with various predicaments.

Some grapple with mental health issues while others find themselves on the streets due to financial hardships, loss of employment, or even engage in homelessness as a form of employment. Additionally, there are deportees among the homeless population, making the situation even more diverse and intricate.

Phillip indicated that the Society has historically shouldered the responsibility of providing immediate aid to those facing homelessness. Their efforts encompass offering temporary shelter, nutritious meals, and emotional support.

While their long-term vision is to collaborate extensively with government agencies and other charitable organisations to tackle homelessness on a broader scale, the Society remains steadfast in its hands-on work.

Nonetheless, the organisation encounters obstacles related to volunteer recruitment and funding, underscoring the necessity for a coordinated, collective approach to effectively address homelessness.


Government initiatives and collaborations

Recent announcements by the government reveal forthcoming measures, including the establishment of assessment centres and safe spaces dedicated to the socially displaced.

These initiatives signify the government’s recognition of the critical role played by organisations such as the SVDP. While these plans are crucial for long-term solutions, Phillip underscores the immediate need for financial assistance and a harmonised approach with various organisations.

“We’re going to have a building three years down the road or five years down the road…that is long too. What is the short-term happening right now? Because if you look around, you see the homeless persons sleeping all over the street. The streets are sometimes dirty because they defecate on the streets and all this kind of stuff. We would provide the support, regardless of if we have the funding or not. We will try in whatever way we can to help by giving or providing a meal or maybe some sort of temporary shelter, or something to that effect to help the homeless situation in Trinidad.”

He emphasised the importance of a united effort in providing relief to the homeless population.

One glaring concern brought to light in the interview pertains to the absence of legislation permitting organisations to remove individuals from the streets and offer them alternative accommodation.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul expressed its willingness to engage in dialogue with government bodies on this matter. Still, there have been no active consultations or legislative changes to address this issue.