Michael Weeks on Bishop Spence
Homeless shelter plan is a step nearer
A range of extra services could be offered at a new emergency housing centre for the homeless if a $3.5 million redevelopment goes ahead.
The Government has prepared a draft memorandum of understanding for the Salvation Army in a bid to provide accommodation for homeless people at the old Bishop Spencer building in Pembroke.
Michael Weeks, the Minister of Social Development and Sports, yesterday said the charity would be responsible for “capital redevelopment” of the disused building on The Glebe Road, where up to 100 beds would be available for emergencies and “transitional living”.
He told the House of Assembly the agreement would commit the Government to seek legislative approval to embark on a 99-year lease with the Salvation Army, for $1 a year “if demanded”.
Although the charity “would be responsible for ongoing capital and operational costs”, an annual $1.2 million grant — subject to yearly review — is expected to cover expenses.
Mr Weeks explained: “The Salvation Army has provided housing opportunities to the homeless and marginalised members of the community at the North Street Shelter since 1982.”
Members heard the previous Progressive Labour Party administration assessed various options for a new site and the former school on The Glebe Road was chosen. The minister continued: “Now this government is following up on a promise made by the former PLP government prior to the 2012 General Election to redevelop the Bishop Spencer facility.
“It gives me pleasure to announce to honourable members that Government has given its approval to the redevelopment of the former Bishop Spencer facility for use as a new emergency housing centre, and intends to work in conjunction with the Salvation Army to make this a reality.”
He said existing programmes offered by the charity, such as food bank and daily feeding initiatives, would be relocated and enhanced.
Mr Weeks told the House a three-month employment training programme for people who need additional support could help those individuals “have a sense of dignity, self-esteem and hope for their future” with possible training areas including janitorial work, basic retail services or farming skills.
An on-site addictions counsellor could offer group meetings and help assess what level of assistance people need to tackle their problems.
Mr Weeks said: “The importance of offering people space to be quiet, reflect and in which to meditate is recognised. The Bishop Spencer facility would lend itself to such an activity, which could be augmented by introducing garden therapy.”
There would be an area for exercise and recreational activities and further suggestions include a foot care clinic for people without access to medical services, and a 13-week course that helps individuals with daily tasks such as setting household budgets, cooking, parenting and personal hygiene.
Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, shadow home affairs minister, asked Mr Weeks how the draft MOU was different “from the 99-year memorandum of understanding and lease that was signed in February of 2017 for $1 per year”.
Mr Weeks said: “On the face of it there is no difference but what I was saying and I wanted to make clear is that this current government started the process pre-2012, the OBA government from 2012 to 2017 didn’t move on it.”
Michael Dunkley, One Bermuda Alliance MP, asked when a MOU would be signed.
Mr Weeks said it has been given to the Salvation Army “to peruse, and it will be signed in due course”.