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Homeless Persons Resist
By Peter Richards, IPS, 24 May 1999
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 centre.
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.
Origin: Rome/POPULATION-TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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