WHILE the temporary homeless shelter on the ground floor of the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons at Riverside Plaza in Port of Spain, remains locked, one of the people involved in a tiff over its use said that a solution may be arrived at in the near future.
However, when Newsday visited the shelter on Sunday, a homeless woman was very unimpressed with the ongoing disagreement between Port of Spain mayor Joel Martinez and founder of the non-government organisation (NGO), the Homeless Assistance Office, Anthony Salloum, which has seen the shelter remain shut.
“They are playing games with the homeless," she said. "It’s like we are spinning top in mud. But we are people too you know.”
Martinez was expected to hand over keys to the temporary shelter to Salloum, after receiving them from the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services three weeks ago.
But an ongoing court dispute between the city corporation, Salloum and a homeless man has stalled the opening of the shelter, which was supposed to temporarily house Port of Spain's homeless especially during curfew hours.
Last Thursday, Martinez told Newsday he would only open the centre if the NGO dropped its appeal which was lodged after the corporation won a court case brought by a homeless man who had been locked out of Tamarind Square.
Salloum responded last week that he will not allow the mayor to use the shelter as a bargaining tool to force him to drop the appeal.
Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox has promised to intervene.
The homeless woman said on Sunday, “Half of them who want to get space could come in but they don’t want to abide by the rules. But we come like hamsters. We want improvement but not like this.”
When contacted on Sunday, Salloum told Newsday he couldn't say much because negotiations were at a very sensitive stage. What he did say was that judging by the direction talks have been going, over the last two days, "All seems well and we are hoping to have a solution very soon. I have the greatest confidence we will come to a solution.”
Calls to Cox and Martinez on Sunday were unsuccessful.
Another man who was seen near the temporary shelter said like many others, he isn’t concerned about the opening of the ground floor shelter. “I have my house, I does just come out here for when they sharing food and then I go back (home).”
Commenting on the issue, San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello told Newsday the southern capital has had its own issues in dealing with the homeless.
“Port of Spain has so much going for them in terms of something that's being provided by the State for them. In San Fernando, we have the St Vincent De Paul shelter, which is basically supported by the Catholic Church, and well-wishers.
"We have the Shamrock Court shelter, which is managed by a committee and supported by the San Fernando city corporation. And we have the shelter by the wharf and that is sponsored by an NGO. And that's it," Regrello said.
The shelter on the wharf, he added, takes in individuals from 6 pm as it’s a night shelter. "They're given a hot meal and breakfast, but they don't stay for the entire day. The shelter at Shamrock Court is very costly and it's operated based on goodwill and contributions by private citizens, and small NGOs.”
He said he is concerned about the absence of proper accommodation for socially displaced women.
Amid the upsurge of covid19 cases, the Port of Spain city corporation's municipal police used metal barriers and caution tape to cordon off the Brian Lara Promenade. After this move, Regrello decided to do the same at San Fernando's Harris Promenade.
Port of Spain's homeless have since taken to sleeping on the pavement outside banks on Independence Square as well as in the doorways of several businesses.
“We continue to lobby because there are various types of homeless people. There are those who have mental issues, and they're the real problems because they have to be assessed before they could even be touched." He said that in San Fernando, there are 57 homeless people registered and of these, between ten and 12 are mentally ill.