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Residents call on Premier to intervene over homeless centre

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The transitional housing facility home is located at Messina House on Boaz Island in Sandys (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Residents of Boaz Island have called on the Premier to immediately halt the operation of a transitional housing facility for homeless people which they feel poses a risk to their community.

As revealed by news organisation Bermuda Real earlier this month, area residents complained about a raft of issues concerning the charity called home located at Messina House in Sandys saying it should be moved to another location.

The concerns range from lack of oversight, operational shortcomings, proximity to children who reside in the neighbourhood and a lack of stringent safety protocols.

Denise Carey, executive director for transitional housing facility home (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

Residents complained about people “under the abuse of substances, with mental health issues or other troubling backgrounds urinating in plain sight, drunkenness, harassment, drinking in public and trespassing” since home opened the facility.

There was also a report in January of a home resident allegedly grabbing a child by his wrist and asking him questions of a sexual nature but no charges were ever brought.

A petition to the Premier says: “We are asking the Premier to step in and cease the operation at Messina House immediately in order to protect our community’s children.”

Government’s response

A Government spokesman said: “The Premier has received the petition from the residents of Boaz Island and takes seriously the concerns that have been outlined.

“Caring for the homeless is a priority of the Government and our intention is to do so in a way that does not adversely impact established communities. Men and women who find themselves in these circumstances need our support to transition back into society. This often involves providing services in a residential setting.

“To ensure that a full understanding is achieved, this requires consultation and an open exchange of information, whatever entities are engaged in the delivery of these services. The Premier has encouraged all parties to continue to meet as necessary and to ensure that the residents have all information possible.”

The Minister of Social Development and Seniors, Tinee Furbert added: “Home has been heavily engaged with community and service stakeholders who have been working with the homeless since its inception, with the only intention of helping the vulnerable members of our community.

“We are grateful for those charities who are able to assist those who may be seeking shelter. My hope is that we can all work together to an find amicable solution to the challenges we face.”

Denise Carey, home’s executive director who was previously executive director for former children’s charity Sunshine League, said that extra policies have been put in place to ensure the safety of the locals since the issues were raised by residents.

Ms Carey said home, which is subject to the regulations of the Charities Act 2014 and is governed by a volunteer board of directors, served as a “vital lifeline” for people in need of accommodation during the winter months and into this year and that its mission is to end homelessness in Bermuda.

She added: “We are providing transitional housing in a group environment. Each client is assigned a case manager, we collect extensive information on individuals including criminal checks and provide support services to work towards independent living – it is a wrap around, strength-based model.”

She said there are four case managers, five additional members of staff and a security guard employed at the facility.

The charity began operating the facility last December to provide transitional housing for a maximum of 24 clients.

Arthur Wightman is home’s chairman and founder, and the head of professional services firm PwC Bermuda, while Wedco issued a six-month lease that is subject to renewal in May.

The petition has been signed by 167 residents after petitioners visited 99 out of 136 households in the area.

The residents listed 11 suggestions but stipulated that they “do not supersede the fact that Boaz Island residents strongly feel that the Messina House is not an ideal location” for the facility, not least owing to there being a nearby community centre.

They want to see a curfew in place, a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy, 24/7 security, a case manager on site at all times, restricting residents from entering private property, security cameras and lighting, vetting and clinical psychiatric evaluations, and clients being subject to a completed rehabilitation programme.

Ms Carey said home has robust health and safety policies in place. She said: “To qualify to enter the programmes, men and women must be homeless, greater than 30 years of age, employed, employment ready or retired, able to manage day-to-day living independently and able to adapt to group living.

“All clients must commit to receiving case management support. It is the objective that people will graduate from this programme and move into permanent independent housing or senior homes once they are ready.

“A risk assessment is conducted on all prospective residents prior to acceptance into the programmes.”

The risk assessment is performed by Ms Carey and includes checks with a number of authorities and support agencies including the Bermuda Police Service and court services.

The charity does not accept referrals from correctional facilities, the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute or those with special needs.

It will not admit into the building those under the influence of alcohol or drugs but does not carry out drug tests.

Ms Carey said: “We are not a treatment facility. If a need for substance abuse treatment is ever identified, our policies require us to refer them for assessment.”

She said a curfew was not necessary saying the average age of home’s clients is 55 and that they rarely go out in the evening.

She said security cameras are now being installed on the property, that an employee or contractor is on the premises at all times and a security guard had recently been hired to watch the premises from 9pm to 6am.

She added: “No resident of Messina House has been arrested and the BPS has not advised home of any concerns or any increase in crime in the neighbourhood since it began operating. The BPS have had full access to Messina House.”

She said she would like to create an oversight committee that includes charity members, area residents, police and other key stakeholders to “constructively look at concerns and ways we can address them”.

“We want to continue to use Messina House, it is a beautiful location and is quite healing for our residents. We look forward to strengthening our relationship with the Boaz Island community.”

Ms Carey said about the alleged incident involving the home resident and young boy: “Home deeply regrets that this incident occurred and has reviewed its policies and put in place additional measures in response including no longer accepting Department of Child and Family Services referrals.

“The person involved in the incident is no longer a resident of Messina House, it was an emergency case referred to the charity by DCFS and we agreed to house him temporarily. We referred the matter to the police.”

Andrew Dias, the general manager for Wedco, confirmed no decision has been made on whether to extend the lease at Messina House.

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Published April 19, 2022 at 11:01 pm (Updated April 19, 2022 at 11:01 pm)

Residents call on Premier to intervene over homeless centre

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