The other pandemic of homelessness

FLASHBACK: Senior Supt Yusuf Gaffor instructs a homeless man to put on a mask during a walkabout with San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello in September last year. - Marvin Hamilton
FLASHBACK: Senior Supt Yusuf Gaffor instructs a homeless man to put on a mask during a walkabout with San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello in September last year. - Marvin Hamilton


In our capital city, it is not uncommon to see the nakedness and filth of the homeless and mentally deranged. The normalcy with which the average commuter and pedestrian peruse the capital city in the presence of what is obviously an epidemic of homelessness and mental illness is astounding. As someone who only came back to Trinidad early last year, after a lengthy sojourn off the island, I may have the advantage of a somewhat refreshed perspective.

However, I do wholeheartedly believe that my observations are not unique, in fact I believe that it is the lament of the vast majority of right-thinking citizens. If someone would have told me that in arguably the most developed capital city of the entire Caribbean – Port of Spain – a year removed from the great visionary deadline of 2020, that it would be normal to see human beings relieving themselves with regularity and perusing the capital city indecently, I would not have believed it. Seeing such human decay with one’s own eyes does bring it home, and the average Port of Spain commuter would attest. Now, this is not particularly unique to TT. In all fairness there are some so-called “developed” cities in which such behaviour may be seen from time to time, but must our standards be aggregated to the lowest common denominator? I reject this forthright.

A call to action on the part of the Port of Spain City Corporation is not an indictment on any particular administration or regime, rather it is a call to us all. The population quite frankly is not dissatisfied sufficiently to prompt urgent action. The cause and effect law as applied to our domestic political circumstance works in the following manner: outrage initiates action not necessarily the nature or the degree of the problem. The variables may change, ie political leaders, mayors, heads of regional corporations etc. they may add a new dynamic in an approach to dealing with a particular problem but much of their good work is bogged down by a lack of cohesion in terms of priorities and often the recalcitrance of some bureaucratic elements whose initiative in getting things done is the equivalent to molasses being pushed uphill – if one can even visualise such. To think that it does not spur the average citizen, much less our leaders to action, that on every second or third block in Port of Spain, south of the bourgeois St Clair area, there is the sight of a man and in some cases woman engaging in some kind of inappropriate or otherwise vulgar activity in the public domain – the individual being clearly riddled with some mental ailment speaks to our national character. This must be addressed.

I’ve heard the argument that the state of Port of Spain is merely a surface issue. That the attention of the state, and the city in this case, is better directed to more substantive issues. The absurdity of such an argument does not merit a response, it falls into the category of mere “intellectual masturbation” to quote former prime minister Basdeo Panday.

Nevertheless, were it not for the fact that in the capital city such actual physical acts of the aforementioned do take place quite frequently by the obviously mentally deranged and homeless, I would not have felt the urge to dignify such a spurious argument with a response. Nevertheless, it appears that the ignorant among us are also blessed with an opinion – as uninformed as it may be. The fact is that mental illness is an actual problem in TT but this must not be dealt with by allowing the capital city to be the actual public hosting grounds of an asylum. The homeless and/or mentally deranged are best dealt with by professionals in a controlled setting with the goal of rehabilitation in mind. It is a shame that one must speak to the obvious, but the consequences of allowing this pernicious sore to continue unaddressed is to perpetuate the continuous folly tantamount to a blatant dereliction of duty by us all.

As one who believes that critique is only worth its salt once followed by recommended proposals for improvement, the following should be considered. Investment in housing the homeless and mentally infirmed, and the actual enforcement of existing vagrancy laws which can be found in the Summary Offences Act under the section rogues and vagabonds.

I was amazed to hear in the public discourse the necessity of giving masks to the homeless. It is only in the warped state of the continuous and perpetual debasement of our moral sensibilities that this makes any sense. The homeless and mentally ill who occupy Port of Spain so publicly, to be mandated to wear masks? As opposed to a concerted effort to address their fundamental ailments i.e. homelessness and mental illness. Given that this was so public an announcement by certain voices in the public domain I challenge the average citizen to test the success of this drive to allocate masks to the homeless. The next time you’re in Port of Spain count how many of the homeless you see wearing masks. I did it, the answer is zero.

Addressing the problem of homelessness in our capital city would be an investment whose rewards would be reaped for generations, not to mention the potential concomitant benefits in the realm of national security, public safety, and tourism.

In a time in which the safety of our women is a point of public discussion, the question of basic public decency is part of that discussion as well. To my fellow young Trinbagonians reading this, I urge you to join me in our fully fledged online campaign with the hashtag: #CleanUpPortOfSpain.


"The other pandemic of homelessness"

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