Plea for new homeless shelter
Bermuda needs a modern shelter for the homeless, a business and community activist has said.
Leon O’Brien added the Salvation Army emergency accommodation centre on Marsh Lane, Pembroke, was no longer fit for use.
Mr O’Brien said: “If there is a minister or permanent secretary who can sleep in the shelter overnight and say it is good, then we have no case.”
He added that there were several buildings in Hamilton that could be used as replacements for the rundown Salvation Army centre, built in the early 1980s with prefab buildings with a ten-year life span.
Mr O’Brien said that the only humane solution was to find enough money to fund an adequate shelter. He added: “We have never seen so many people begging on the streets. A government is only effective when it takes care of the least of its citizens.”
He said: “I don’t have statistics, but there are people camping out at pharmacies, banks, restaurants, begging ... there are more people begging now.”
A Salvation Army spokesman said an average of 65 to 70 people used the shelter nightly. He said the numbers who access the charity’s street-feeding programme in the evenings have increased to about 25 to 35 per night.
Mr O’Brien said more than sleeping accommodation was needed because some people did not have anywhere to go during the day. He said he wanted a centre where “individuals could go to shower, get a meal and stay so they would not be all over the street begging”. He added: “If we can open an office in Brussels, build an airport, why can’t we take care of a shelter? We should not have people living in substandard conditions.”
Mr O’Brien said society was a reflection of how it took care of those in need, like the homeless. He added: “We can give them back some dignity.”
He noted a shortage of agencies which help men, and said the shelter should also offer social programmes.
He was speaking months after the Government promised to follow up on plans drawn up by an earlier Progressive Labour Party administration to move the shelter to the Bishop Spencer building in Pembroke, once the home of the prison service.
Michael Weeks, then minister of social development and sport, said last July that a draft memorandum of understanding had been prepared by the Government for the Salvation Army to operate the new location.
Mr Weeks added the Salvation Army would be responsible for a $3.5 million redevelopment of the building and up to 100 beds would be available for emergencies and “transitional living”.
The charity would also have been responsible for operational costs, but an annual grant of $1.2 million was expected to cover expenses. Mr Weeks told the House of Assembly that under the agreement, the Government would seek legislative approval to sign a 99-year lease with the Salvation Army for $1 a year.
He said the new shelter would have employment training and addiction programmes, recreational facilities and a foot clinic.
The Salvation Army spokesman said: “The shelter has been in a deteriorating state for well over 15 years and the current condition of the shelter goes against the core values of the Salvation Army, where we endeavour to inspire hope with those that we serve.”
He added the charity was “keenly interested in seeing the new shelter location move forward and is committed to assist the residents through these transitions”.
He added: “The present location shares many difficulties and challenges, from having a small swampy canal on one side to inadequate plumbing that turns the yard into a pool when it rains. The Salvation Army is also concerned that we do not have the capacity to offer day programming to provide supporting services.”
The spokesman said the charity had been concerned about the state of the shelter for some time and had worked with the Government to find a new building.
He added: “The plans have not been finalised and we are still working on the details and agreements of the MOU.”
A ministry spokesman said the “Government remains committed to its partnership with the Salvation Army”.