Homeless are wallowing in filth’ at shelter
City puts $22k aside to tackle the issue
The Corporation of Hamilton plans to spend less than $25,000 tackling the issue of homelessness this year.
Ed Benevides, the municipality’s secretary and chief operating officer, told The Royal Gazette that it was slated to spend $22,000 on “vagrant /homeless-related issues” in 2014. He said it spent $29,000 last year. This newspaper understands that some of that paid for a fact-finding mission to Ontario to visit a homeless shelter there.
According to Mayor Graeme Outerbridge, the Corporation has always operated within budget since his Team Hamilton administration took over the running of the municipality in May 2012.
Nevertheless, in the last two years the administration has made a raft of controversial financial decisions that have led to accusations of “rampant maladministration” within the corridors of City Hall.
The Corporation was accused of wasting money on “boondoggles” after it put $850,000 of ratepayer funds into a ‘members expenses’ account. Mr Outerbridge later said the cash was needed to fund several legal cases — which is why it spent a further $250,000 retaining the services of a top London law firm.
In September, it spent $30,000 sending a five-man delegation to Colombia to attend a conference and a month later, councillors were accused of lining their own pockets after they voted to pay themselves thousands of dollars in backdated stipends for attending regular council and committee meetings.
There was further controversy in November when the municipality ditched a Bermuda public relations firm and hired a New York company to promote the Corporation overseas.
Last month it was revealed that it had agreed to pay US organisation the Conference of Black Mayors (CBM) at least $100,000 to hold a conference on the Island.
In a damning review of the Corporation last December, Ombudsman Arlene Brock said that maladministration was rampant.
Her list of concerns included “arbitrary decisions made without regard for the technical advice of staff, questionable expenditures, potential conflicts of interest, the marked increase in retroactive and unsigned resolutions, and business being conducted in secret caucus meetings”.
Homeless people in the City of Hamilton are “wallowing in filth” in an emergency shelter that should be condemned, according to a new task force set up to seek funding for an alternative facility.
City Hall has formed a committee whose aim is to provide a “one stop shop” for the more than 300 people estimated to be living rough on the Island — so they no longer have to seek help at the emergency housing complex run by the Salvation Army on North Street.
The group wants to form a public-private partnership to pay for a new shelter in the capital, which would provide a hygienic place to sleep and eat for the homeless, along with a host of other services aimed at getting them back on their feet.
Mayor Graeme Outerbridge told The Royal Gazette that the Salvation Army facility had holes in the floor and “should have been condemned” due to its dilapidated condition.
He said the state of the place was the “biggest impetus” in getting the Committee on Homelessness in the City of Hamilton formed, along with a lack of co-ordination of services on the Island for those needing help.
His comments were backed by Councillor RoseAnn Edwards, while committee member Derrick Phipps, a lawyer who was himself homeless until last year, added: “You find yourself in a cycle of hopelessness. Having a psychological feeling of hopelessness and wallowing in filth — they don’t necessarily empower you to get out of that cycle.”
Asked if those sleeping at the Salvation Army Shelter were “wallowing in filth”, Mr Phipps replied: “It’s worse than that. When you have people who go to the hospital for an illness, when you have people who go to rehab and they are released and they go back into a place to have a roof over their head, like the emergency shelter, it’s regression in more ways than one.”
Salvation Army divisional commander Shawn Critch described the comments about the shelter as “certainly misleading”. He said they did not “reflect the work done on site by the Salvation Army in partnership with the Government of Bermuda”.
Major Critch added: “While the facility does present some challenges and does need to be relocated, any issues relating to health and safety are addressed in the interest of those we serve. The housing service provided is done in a way that respects each individual.
“Statements from ‘committee members’ need to be taken within context, without drawing broad conclusions on the overall state of the facility.”
He said the Salvation Army was a member of the task force on homelessness — though he wasn’t aware that Mr Phipps was a member — and had told the committee it was “critical that we avoid any duplication of service in building a strategic approach to the issues of homelessness in Bermuda”.
According to Major Critch, the task force has not met for several months — a claim denied by Mr Outerbridge, who said it met monthly and was to begin meeting every two weeks.
Major Critch said the Salvation Army was in “active conversation” with Government on two housing projects, including the relocation of the emergency housing complex. “At this point I am pleased with the progress made to date,” he said.
Seven members of the City Hall committee met with this newspaper yesterday to outline their vision for a dedicated homeless facility, which they said should be funded from the public purse and the “community at large”, especially business owners in the capital.
Mr Outerbridge said the scheme was still in its early stages and the committee had not set a financial fundraising target — but the aim was to offer many more services than the current emergency shelter.
He said it would house the equivalent of the former “indigent clinic” for medical and dental needs and would offer mental health and substance abuse assistance.
Committee head Kevin Santucci, the volunteer Chaplain of the City of Hamilton, said: “The Salvation Army, they do provide housing, shelter, food, for persons. They do have a facility to provide for persons with substance abuse. But what we are trying to provide is something more; a little bit more structure.”
Alderman Gwyneth Rawlins said: “The Salvation Army offers what we would call a ‘Band-Aid’ solution and we are looking for long-term healing.”
City Hall is currently mired in controversy after agreeing to spend more than $100,000 on a conference for black mayors in the capital.
We asked Mr Outerbridge to explain why the Corporation would spend that amount on an event for an overseas organisation, compared to just $29,000 on “vagrant/homeless-related issues” last year, with $22,000 budgeted for 2014.
The Mayor said: “At this point in time, we are working on a lot of things, not just a conference, that we think will help the city and help tourism. Our idea was having an international event that would not only help Hamilton but that would help Bermuda. It’s the same sort of outreach that we are trying to [do by] help[ing] the homeless.”
Mr Outerbridge said the city’s “tax base” was “not happy about people sleeping in their doorways, defecating on their doorsteps, peeing on their windows” so those same business owners should contribute to providing a shelter.
“It’s a social and personal problem for those individuals but it is also a problem for the city,” added the Mayor. “They come from all over the Island, just like pigeons come to the bus station for free food.”
Mr Phipps said the Island had to recognise that just as international business was “everyone’s business”, so was homelessness.
The Salvation Army Shelter on North Street costs about $600,000 a year to run, according to Major Critch, with most of that funded through a $525,000 government grant.
It has 54 beds, a case worker on site, nine full-time staff and operates between 5pm and 8am.
A Government spokeswoman said yesterday: “The OBA government committed to working with the Salvation Army in its election platform to find adequate transitional housing to replace the North Street shelter, a premises which we agree is not adequate and which is in a sad state of disrepair.
“The Minister of Public Works and Minister of Home Affairs have been working on that solution, and an announcement will be made in due course.”
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