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Wedco postpones decision on homeless centre lease

Messina House, the location of Home, a transitional living centre for the homeless (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Residents of Boaz Island in Sandys claim they have successfully delayed a decision by Wedco to renew the lease of a homeless facility in their neighbourhood.

Wedco’s decision whether to renew the lease for the centre run by Home at Messina House was due to be made two weeks ago at a board meeting, the residents said.

The residents, who have made a case that the facility should cease operation at its current location because they believe it poses a risk to their community, said: “One very small win is that we were able to reach Wedco the day before their board was set to consider a new lease for Home, and thankfully Wedco did not make a decision yet. However, it must be made by the end of May as the current lease expires.

“We are hoping that Wedco considers our concerns and does not renew a lease with Home.“

Andrew Dias, general manager at Wedco, said: ‘“The board of the Wedco deliberated on the question of whether to extend the agreement with Home for the use of Messina House. The board reviewed correspondence from area residents and representatives of Home.

“After considerable deliberations, recognising the sensitivity of area residents and the fact that there are hundreds of homeless people in Bermuda, the board requested I seek additional information, as the board recognises the importance of neighbourhood safety and the provision of necessary facilities to meet the needs of the overall Bermuda community.”

The six-month initial licence expires this month and Wedco’s board will continue to deliberate the matter during its May board meeting.

The Boaz Island residents have listed for Wedco 17 actions they wish to be taken by Home to help alleviate their concerns but their ultimate goal remains for the charity to cease operating out of Messina House and for its homeless residents to leave before the school summer holidays begin.

These are in addition to 11 requests they made to Home, as revealed by news organisation Bermuda Real last month, in relation to security, which included the hiring of a security guard and installation of CCTV cameras.

Among the residents’ new demands are that Home works towards voluntarily registering with the Ministry of Health and “heeds the ministry’s advice as to which of its legal standards and best practices it should abide by”.

While as a charity, Home is regulated under the Charities Act 2014, it is not subject to regulations for operating as an adult group living transitional home.

The residents say that Home should research and consider guidelines for establishing locations for the residence from similar organisations and jurisdictions.

The residents have called on Home, which is run by Denise Carey, executive director, to resubmit its application to the Charities Commission “with full disclosure of their operational intentions”, claiming that its purpose changed since its original submission.

They added: “Home should take the needed time to develop detailed plans for how they will administer their services and provide details for a robust service programme, policies, management plans, staff certifications, an expanded vulnerable persons policy, and much more.

“Home should ensure a risk assessment is completed to cover the operation of the facility itself, risks posed the surrounding community including those of vulnerable persons living in the area.”

They say that Messina House was intended to be a temporary location and that the owners should not skip the search for a more suitable location now they have settled.

The facility is near a community centre and therefore is in an increased penalty zone. They suggested there are more suitable locations.

“Ideal locations in our opinion are located outside of increased penalty zones, not in the centre of densely populated neighbourhoods, not in neighbourhoods with high concentrations of children, not close to bars or off-premise alcohol sale businesses and not so deep into a neighbourhood as to cause Home residents to trek through so many residences and properties,” they added.

They have also called on Home to work closely with the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute or other organisations that can provide licensed psychological assessments on Home’s residents to assess cognitive functioning, drug or alcohol dependency, risk assessment and identification of needed treatments.

The residents submitted a petition with 167 signatures to David Burt, the Premier, calling for him to intervene and close the facility. They claimed a number of incidences had occurred since Home began operating in December including a child being grabbed by a Home resident and being asked questions of a sexual nature.

A spokesman for the residents said: “Residents of Boaz Island feel very strongly about this situation and will not stop working to effect the change they wish to see. Our biggest worry is that Wedco will sign a permanent lease, and in an instant, ignore the concerns of all 167 persons that signed the petition. Residents will not accept having their concerns set aside and wishes for a Home to be held accountable and transparent.“

A spokeswoman for Home said: “A working group has been set up comprising local residents, the charity and other stakeholders. An independent chairman has already conducted the first of several meetings to be scheduled in the weeks ahead.

“The purpose of this group is to share information, discuss concerns and agree solutions together. We also hope it provides an opportunity for restoration and the rebuilding of trust and understanding as we work together towards mutually beneficial outcomes.”

Home executive directors Denise Carey said in previous reports that extra policies had been put in place to ensure the safety of the locals since the issues were raised by residents. She said a security guard had been hired and that CCTV cameras were being installed.

She said Home, which 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.

Ms Carey, who was previously executive director for former children’s charity Sunshine League, 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.”