The sad plight of the Nagoo family — highlighted in a Sunday Newsday report this week — has triggered an outpouring of support and generosity. It is reassuring to know that in good times and in bad, Trinidad and Tobago nationals can be relied on to show compassion and kindness to people in need. We have many challenges as a nation, but there is also a better side to us.
Perhaps one reason why the story of Dave Nagoo, 38, his wife Indira and their three daughters, aged seven to ten, has struck such a raw nerve is the feeling that it could easily happen to any of us. Family disputes are very common and often they involve claims on property. Perhaps when readers saw the photograph of Nagoo’s children in the car in which they have been living they recognised instantly an all-too-familiar nightmare.
This is a sad fact of life. The problem of homelessness is not limited to socially displaced individuals roaming our cities. It can also involve entire families and can fall upon people suddenly. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, things simply fall apart. Long is the list of many successful individuals who were once homeless. Well-known celebrities who reportedly fall into this category include Steve Harvey, Jennifer Lopez, Ella Fitzgerald, Daniel Craig, Dr Phil, Halle Berry, Jim Carrey and James Cameron.
Even Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit recently lamented he had been rendered homeless alongside thousands of others due to the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. In fact, our region is one in which homelessness is endemic due to natural disasters. Years after the fact, 85,000 Haitians were still homeless due to the 2010 earthquake there. Recently, it has been reported that homelessness is on the rise in Jamaica, with a 28 per cent jump between 2012 and 2015.
The type of homelessness experienced by the Nagoo family is one that arguably escapes the radar. Nevertheless, it is an experience which many quietly undergo at some point.
But the fact that they are not alone does little to console those who must live in their car. The question is whether the State’s social safety net is robust enough to capture all of the worthy cases. And if so, do enough people know of the services available to them?
The provision of housing is also a highly sensitive matter given the limited supply of housing units in the country, and the need to be mindful of setting precedents. Cases involving children also engage specific standards. Perhaps the challenge for the State is to have a safety net that is properly targeted: reaching truly vulnerable members of society, while also being accommodating enough to handle case-by-case situations.
But the truth is, this situation should never have developed in the first place.
All too often disputes, whether within families or communities, are allowed to degenerate to the extent that they have dire outcomes. How can we as a society learn to solve our problems in a more humane way?
Often people seek to resolve conflicts through litigation. But the court should always be a last resort. How can we encourage non-litigious means of dispute resolution? Can mediation not play a greater role? What of community groups and elders?
It is good, however, to see people stepping forward to offer assistance to the Nagoo family. One family has even gone so far as to offer to build a house for the homeless family. Such generosity is as rare as it is beautiful. At least this story looks to have a happy ending. And just in time for the Christmas season too.