A nation can be judged by how it treats the most vulnerable members of its society and so we welcome the announcement that a parcel of land in Port of Spain is to be devoted to the development of a homeless shelter to serve the capital. However, we implore the authorities to ensure the facility is purpose-build and part of a holistic plan that includes involvement of community organisations and NGOs with experience in sheltering street dwellers.
A cursory glance at the make-shift facilities at the Riverside Plaza car park is enough for anyone to realise that the time has come for a proper, dedicated shelter to be designated. The Riverside Plaza car park facility came about due to the losses being incurred at that east Port-of-Spain rejuvenation project and was never designed for the purpose to which it is dedicated now.
In fact, it is arguable that the facility is now a major hindrance to the development of that segment of the capital since it is manifestly overcrowded and ill-suited to meeting the needs of those within it. It is high time a new facility is designated.
But what is required is more than just land and a building.
The new facility must be specifically tailored to handle what is a complex matter.
As noted in several Parliament committee sessions and reports, street-dwellers involve a wide range of social intersections.
A person may end up on the street for one of many reasons. These include: lack of employment, abandonment by family, ostracism from community, drug addition, and mental health issues.
As such it is more than just a matter of providing each homeless person with a room.
They must also have access to all the ancillary things that could make a stay in the new facility meaningful, including access to medical facilities, counselling, rehab and life support.
We cannot have a repeat of the grand clearance which took place before the 2009 Summit of the Americas. What was at first a successful removal of homeless people from the streets later became an abject failure once the summit was over. The homeless people simply came back.
Sweeping up the homeless and placing them in a room on a new piece of land is not going to solve anything.
The State may be able to implement a holistic programme at the new shelter if it partners with organisations with experience in these matters, such as the Salvation Army and the relevant regional heath authorities and their facilities.
The days of homeless people dying on our streets or at the Riverside Plaza car park should be over.
A dedicated facility will contribute to the development of a more humane environment.
And it will also have the added benefit of allowing planners and business officials to make better use of the capital and its facilities. If we truly desire the rejuvenation of Port-of-Spain we must include a clear plan for its homeless.
We laud the Port of Spain City Corporation for the big step it is taking and hope this move by Mayor Joel Martinez is part of a wider plan.