“I have been robbed so many times on the streets by other homeless men at nights. When all I wanted was to find somewhere safe to close my eyes and sleep. The benches outside the San Fernando General Hospital is the only safe place I know.”
This was the cry of Chandrabhosh Maharaj, 68, who, for the past nine months, has been sleeping on the benches at the hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department.
Maharaj was left homeless after his house at California, near Couva, was destroyed by fire almost six years ago. The former sno cone vendor has also slept on the streets of San Fernando, Princes Town, Couva and Port of Spain until he went to the hospital.
Maharaj has never being able to access his pension so he uses his identification card to travel for free on buses to go to different areas.
“Every time I go to the social welfare office to find out about my pension money I get the run around. They tell me to come back always. So to date, I have not even gotten my pension to help me out. I was a vendor all my life. I did not pay NIS so I have no contributions to get. The fire destroyed everything in my house. I could not even continue selling sno cones.”
Maharaj said the money he saved is now finished. “I had to buy food for a long while to survive so eventually my money was done. It is so embarrassing to be on the streets begging people for a dollar now. I was once a businessman. I cry everyday to know how my life is now, a vagrant, a beggar, this is not me.”
He told Sunday Newsday he goes to restaurants and asks for leftover food. “Some people are kind enough to give me hot meals some days which I am always grateful for.”
This, he said, has been his routine during the daytime. “At nights I walk to the hospital and sleep on the benches, only to start the next day all over again.”
Maharaj, who has a heart condition, said some nights security guards at the hospital chase him away. “They run me like a dog. When all I do is sit on the chair and just sleep. One came up to me the other night saying that he had seen my face at the hospital too regular. ‘You are not sick old man. Go from here and don’t come back or one of these days I will give you something to get sick.’”
He goes to public washrooms to keep himself clean and said he has tried staying at shelters. “But when you stay at these places they steal from you also. So in the streets other homeless men robbing you and when you go to these shelters they steal your shoes, clothing and anything you have. In the end you are left with an empty bag.”
Adding, he said, “I just want a safe place to stay. I am old and I know my time here is short but I would be grateful for a place I can call my home. All I am asking for is too be able to get my pension money and a place to stay. I know I can’t stay in the hospital any longer. I am asking the authorities to help me find a place to stay. Can anyone help me?”
Anyone wishing to help Maharaj can contact Newsday’s San Fernando office at 653-7195.