Port of Spain mayor Joel Martinez and NGO head Anthony Salloum decided to put their ongoing court dispute aside to open the temporary homeless shelter on the ground floor of the Riverside Plaza Carpark on Wednesday.
Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox first presented the keys to Martinez almost three weeks ago after being told of concerns about the homeless roaming the streets during curfew hours.
The mayor was expected to give the keys to Salloum, founder of the NGO Homeless Assistance Office, but a 2016 court dispute between a homeless man, Salloum, and the city corporation disrupted the process.
When contacted last week, Martinez said he would hand over the keys only if Salloum dropped the appeal in that case.
Salloum fired back that he would not allow the mayor to use the shelter as a bargaining tool.
The court referred the two parties to mediation in an attempt to get them to resolve the matter on their own.
When asked if the negotiations had ended, Martinez said, after handing over the keys, “The mediation is still going on, but we can’t wait for the outcome of that, because the real essence of what we are doing here is really at stake and although the mediation will come to an end we expect a positive outcome.”
Apparently in a more placatory mood, he said, “The objective is to start the process…We have seen how difficult and distressing it could be for the homeless and other citizens. But to be able to bring compassion and progress towards dealing with it – Salloum’s heart is in the right place, and I believe my heart is also in it."
The temporary shelter will be able to accommodate 64 additional socially displaced people.