Homeless people resist government pre-pageant beautification plan

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 3 Jun 1999 21:59:14 -0700 (PDT)

FWD from InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)

** Written  9:35 PM  May 24, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:reg.carib **

                      *** 24-May-99 ***



By Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, May 24 (IPS) - Hundreds of homeless persons are
resisting government's efforts to remove them from the streets as the
administration embarks on a massive clean up campaign to have
everything picture- perfect ahead of Wednesday's staging of the Miss
Universe beauty pageant here.

The homeless persons are resisting the efforts, saying government is
only making this move because it wants to create a good impression on
those who will be travelling to the island for the pageant.

Wrong motive, some say.

"Why are they doing so, when everybody knows the reasons behind it,"
says one homeless man clutching a cardboard box which he probably uses
for a bed at night.

"We are going to give trouble," adds one middle-aged man as smoke
billows from a nearby makeshift stove, where a blackened pan holds the
contents of his meals. "What's all this madness?

But the government is denying that the reason for trying to get the
homeless persons off the street now is to create a good impression on
visitors expected in the island for the beauty pageant.

Social Development Minister Manohar Ramsaran, who last week announced
that between 70 and 80 homeless persons would be taken off the streets
and placed in shelters, says he is disappointed that the initiative is
viewed as a gesture toward the international beauty pageant.

However government's denial has not been convincing. One newspaper
editorial noted "It would be stretching credulity too far to accept
government claims that this week's round-up of vagrants is not
connected with the arrival of visitors for the Miss Universe Pageant."

On the other hand, callers to various radio and television talk shows
have reminded the authorities that after May 26 - the date of the
beauty pageant -  the vagrancy problem would still be there.

Michael Keaton, who heads the Vagrants Association, says his
organisation had submitted proposals to the government for a solution
to their plight, but to date he has not received a response.

Keaton says he prefers the term vagrants instead of "homeless,
destitute or underprivileged people."

Port of Spain alone has an estimated 300 homeless persons, according to
businessman Anthony Salloum, who chairs the government appointed Social
Displacement Board.

The figure provided by Salloum is below the 800 persons whom the
Non-Governmental Organisation, The St. Vincent De Society says roamed
the streets here prior to 1995. The Society is one of many NGOs
providing help for homeless persons, but which see their shelters "as a
temporary place and a rehabilitation centre".

Salloum says removing the vagrants from the streets is part of a
"holistic plan" which the government has been developing since 1997. It
was devised with inputs from the business community, medical officials,
and care institutions and NGOs.

He says the plan, which calls for the establishment of the Social
Displacement Board in the first instance, is almost identical to the
one being pursued by the authorities in the city of Miami in the United
States where authorities are faced with a similar similar problem.

"I have been referring the document to Miami and our plan matches up to
theirs and it is very likely to work," he says.

However, Salloum, the managing director of a major city operation says
it is necessary for the proper infrastructure to be in place to deal
with the problem. "If we can't give them a viable alternative, we can't
move them," he says.

"You know if they have to be institutionalised their first instinct is
to object and fight," he says..

Another problem which the authorities are facing is that many of the
homeless persons  here are drug addicts.

Trinidad and Tobago like its other Caribbean neighbours is battling a
serious drug problem.

In its 1999 Drug Certification Report for the Caribbean, the United
States said that last year the authorities here seized 8.5 kilogrammes
of cocaine and arrested 1,388 persons on cocaine-tafficking or
possession charges.

Further, the police reported the destruction of 4.23 million
fully-grown marijuana plants and  seedlings during 1998.

Ramsaran says while the NGOs have assisted in the rehabilitation of
many drug addicts,  "we are still grappling with the problem" mainly
because most have suffered a relapse.

Last March, government announced that the estate of  convicted drug
lord, Dole Chadee would be converted into a drug rehabilitation

The facility will house 60 male and female residents and will offer
rehabilitation coupled  with training in agriculture, carpentry,
masonry and food preparation.

The recovering addicts will remain there for a period of one or two
years.  At the existing centres they can only be accommodated for three
months as space is limited.  Most of the other 28 centres throughout
the country are financially strapped.  (END/IPS/pr/cb/99)



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