Build an ambience of comfort and safety and the homeless would come off the streets. This is what Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez is hoping would happen when the city establishes a home for the homeless a few metres away from Riverside Plaza.
Vagrancy and the homeless have been a problem in the city for decades. Speaking to reporters after the City Council’s statutory meeting at City Hall, Martinez said when he first came into office, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said, “Chacon Street and other parts of Port of Spain were like an open sewer. The streets are dirty and Port of Spain is not a place of pride.
“I decided to find a solution to the problem. I realised a number of mayors over the years have had difficulty in trying to resolve the problem. Some tried where they picked up the homeless off the streets and then there were injunctions which led to a court case that we had.
An attempt to remove a man from Tamarind Square when they attempted to lock the Square, were unsuccessful and the State was sued. The case is still active,” Martinez said.
Martinez added that he has been in discussions with one person and also contacted the Social Development Ministry.”I have put a team in place to work with the corporation to make sure that we do this in a meaningful and proper way. The committee has met on a number of occasions, we reached out to DOMA (Downtown Owners and Merchants Association), various NGOs, the Diplomatic Service and also a centre in Dade County in Miami who is willing to help and guide us,” Martinez said.
The Mayor is calling on the private sector to assist in building the facility and maybe assist with a fund where they could run the facility, making it sustainable where the homeless could eventually have a place to reside in the city. Martinez also knew that not all homeless people would choose the facility.
“Like everyone in society people have choices. You have the right to use your street, the homeless have the right to use the street, but they do not have the right to sleep on the street. Let us see how we can do this in a more humane way.”