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Chris Furbert: one homeless person is one too many

Standing together: Arnold Smith, the Bermuda Industrial Union chief union organiser, with Denise Carey, the executive director of Home, and Chris Furbert, the president of the BIU, which rents property to the charity (Photograph by Jeremy Deacon)

A country as wealthy as Bermuda should not have people living on the streets, a union leader highlighted.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, said he also believed that the island should be able to provide facilities for those who do find themselves without a home.

The BIU is the landlord of the Black Circle property on Union Street, which it rents to Home, the charity helping homeless people.

When the union was approached by Home after a tenant moved out, Mr Furbert said: “We saw it as an opportunity to further extend what we’ve been doing with other organisations.”

In the past the building was used by the Bermuda Housing Corporation, and Mr Furbert added: “We have had people living there before so we thought this would be a good fit, and I think it’s worked out to be exactly that, a good fit.

“We are very happy to support Home.

“Understanding that Bermuda is the most expensive country to live in and the high cost of living, there’s still no reason why we shouldn’t be able to provide facilities for people who are homeless.

“We shouldn’t have people living on the streets. This country is too wealthy to have one person living on the street. One person is too many.

“Home offers an opportunity to get people off the streets, and the more people we can get off the streets, the better the streets are going to be.”

Ending homelessness

The Royal Gazette, in conjunction with stakeholders including Home, has launched its Ending Homelessness campaign to remind the community that people affected by homelessness matter.

Home, and others, want to end homelessness. So do we. We want your support. We want you to change your perception of members of the unsheltered population. We want you to help lobby for simple changes. We want you to show compassion.

Homeless people want to work so that they can be self-sufficient. They did not choose to be homeless, and in many cases their plight was brought about by systemic failings in this country.

Home has now been at Black Circle for a little more than two years although it did not take in its first cohort of homeless people until a few months after the charity moved into the building.

“That allowed us opportunity to get to know our neighbours first,” said Denise Carey, Home’s executive director.

“Some businesses and residents came in, they did tours and they asked questions. It gave us the opportunity to get to know our surroundings before the first cohort moved in.”

Facts about homelessness

In 2010, the Bermuda Census identified 82 people experiencing homelessness. By 2016, that number had risen to 138.

According to Home, the Department of Statistics developed those estimates based on counting rough sleepers and the population housed in the Salvation Army emergency shelter.

As of December 31, 2023, Home recorded Bermuda’s homeless population as 811.

One of the building’s earlier uses was as a shelter for women victims of domestic violence who could be housed there with their children.

Ms Carey said: “We have had guys join our cohort and then a couple of weeks in tell us, ‘I've actually lived in this building before; this was a safe space for me and my mom’.

“It blew my mind because that means that this person has had a lifetime of trauma, [with people] unable to sustain their employment or their housing.”

She said it pointed to a lack of support for adults, and added: “We oftentimes focus on the most vulnerable and we focus on the issues of children, as we should.

“We focus on the issues of seniors, as we should. But we don’t take the time to make sure that our adults receive the mental and physical health support that they need.

“We must work together to provide wraparound services for as long as people need it.”

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Published June 19, 2024 at 7:57 am (Updated June 20, 2024 at 10:48 am)

Chris Furbert: one homeless person is one too many

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