Rise in homeless and squatters
Hundreds of people could be squatters in abandoned buildings, the head of a family charity said yesterday.
Martha Dismont, executive director for Family Centre, said increased homelessness has led more people squatting or living on a temporary basis with friends or family.
Ms Dismont said that statistics on the problem were hard to come by, although it was clear there had been a jump in the number of homeless people over the last decade.
She added: “We do know that there are many, many people who are homeless or who do not have what’s necessary to survive normally in this high-cost economy and consequently they are finding other ways to survive.
“We know that there are people that pop up every day that are in circumstances like this. I suppose we can estimate they’re in the hundreds, to be honest, but we don’t know for sure.”
Ms Dismont said economic conditions and the high cost of living had hit some people hard.
She explained: “Many of us are seeing that Bermuda hasn’t prepared itself for circumstances where the economy has drastically changed in the last ten years, in terms of the cost of living, in terms of the way in which you earn a wage and the job skills.
“It’s a lack of job skills, it’s a lack of, in some cases, education to even develop new skills. The question is, whether they’re seniors or the individuals without the job skills or the education, what are we going to do?”
Ms Dismont was speaking after a homeless man was charged in connection with an alleged incident at the former prison service headquarters in Pembroke’s Happy Valley Road last week.
She added she had been contacted last Friday by a mother of three whose family are facing eviction from their home for non-payment of rent but had been unable to find alternative accommodation.
Ms Dismont said: “Therefore we suspect that there are lots of people in these circumstances that become desperate and many of them may squat on someone else’s land or building and so they will run into the police, unfortunately.
“The thing that I think is the worst scenario is for it to become just a police matter because then it’s about criminality, anger, disappointment, frustration and behaviours getting out of control.
“It needs to be more of a social matter that we work together with the police to resolve.”
She added: “I think it’s part of the reason why no one agency has tackled the problem, because you have to have a solution.”
Gina Spence, a prominent community activist, confirmed the rise in homelessness.
She said that former foster children were most at risk.
She explained: “There’s a lot of children who are in foster care and after 16 or 18 a foster parent does not have to keep them.
“So, a lot of young adults actually find themselves parentless and homeless after they age out of the system. A lot of young men in particular just go from house to house where they’re just staying with a friend or someone’s letting them sleep in their basement or the cellar.”
Ms Spence said that homelessness could affect anyone who struggled to make ends meet.
It is not restricted to those who sleep on the street.
She added: Sometimes there may be a married household and someone gets sick.
“Then all of a sudden the cost of helping this person affects your ability to meet your other financial demands.
“There are a lot of reasons why people end up without a place to live.
“They are not all because they don’t work or they don’t care.”
Ms Spence said: “Countries with less wealth than us have given a second chance at life to those that want to live in a safe, clean environment.
“In those housing shelters you do find self-worth.
“There are programmes, there are opportunities, there are ways to kind of regain your life.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Works said that the Bermuda Housing Corporation provided two housing complexes for those in need.
She said that Langley House, at Southside, St David’s, provided multi-unit accommodation for men and Gulfstream, also in St David’s, provided homes for families.
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