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Solving the homeless problem

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I retain my interest in resolving the homeless/vagrancy issue currently tackled by so many eager and keen humanitarians.

When I joined the PLP at the age of 16 the needy were a motivating force for grassroots people like Hyacinth Burgess, Mary Hayward, Aurelia Burch, Wilfred Allen and Charles Bean, to name but a few.

It was only natural that with St Paul AME Church, an aunt and several sisters and now a son who also place emphasis on the needs of the poor, that my focus would remain. As the first, and only, Minister for Social Rehabilitation (2007-2009), I was saddened but encouraged when I read the detailed report commissioned by the late Minister Nelson Bascome.

The lead civil servant, Marva O'Brien and her committee, did an excellent job and that report remains a sterling example of details with an action plan.

Unfortunately, the report sat. I found it and after jumping numerous hurdles was able to have it adopted as part of the Ministry’s checklist. When I left the Ministry, the new homeless shelter was a possibility, along with the appointment of a Homeless Council. What has happened since is unclear and was probably dropped as the new Minister set priorities.

Recently the issue raised its head again when I completed the controversial documentary “Out Among the Ins”. Finding solutions has become next to impossible as we see the numbers increase all around the Island from our Front Street doorstep, openly seen by us and our tourists, to our beautiful public parks. The report highlighted why they are there.

Yet we seem helpless to do anything to help meet their needs, stop them from congregating and creating issues that annoy us. If we had industry, they could possibly be sent there to do menial repetitive task like sanding souvenirs or putting labels on bottles. So they sit there and sleep there and have now moved to doorways for their evening rest all in front of the tourists and businessmen we try desperately to bring to paradise. They are rarely arrested and charged and they know it. The numbers are increasing.

If we really want a solution, we will have to bite the bullet and set up a programme that will permanently remove them from a lifeless life.

Take Teucer House on Cedar Avenue for example. Formerly the Department of Education and later Probation Services, it needs the hands of the unemployed. I believe trucking firms would work a deal to remove the rubbish and I believe there is a firm in the incubator programme ready to build it with some of the former craftsman who now sit idle around town. I also believe Bermudians would buy shares in such a venture to finance it. I also believe there are groups ready to run it.

I also believe there are resources in this country eager to make souvenirs using “cheap labour” that could be taken there for the day. I believe counsellors, teachers and churches would volunteer to help them. I also believe we could then pass a law saying you cannot loiter, and if, after one warning, you re-offend, you will be sent to the facility where you can work, make money and earn points to be housed that night.

Last, but not least, I believe this is our problem. It is not solely the problem of the Corporation of Hamilton and our veteran homeless advocates but our problem, which means we need your ideas to make it work.

Sounds fairly simple to me. It was the direction we were hoping to take when I joined the PLP back then. I firmly believe, if we don't act, the problem will get worse and we will get more of the same.

Dale Butler is MP for Warwick North Central and was a Minister of Government from 2003 to 2009

An unidentifed homeless man elters from the rain and cold in this file photo
Homeless shelter? Teucer House (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Dale Butler

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Published March 06, 2012 at 8:52 am (Updated March 06, 2012 at 8:51 am)

Solving the homeless problem

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