Former shot put star shines in street patrol role
The woman charged with leading city bike patrols for Security Associates is Sonya Smith.
Still a record holder, the former javelin and shot put champion, who set a Carifta record in Jamaica in 1979 said: “This is the ideal job for me.”
Humbled by the positive feedback received from clients who have written to the company commending her for the service, Ms Smith said: “I love my job.
“It comes naturally for me because I love working with my people, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
And in her role on the job she gets to see a lot of the “ugly” side of Bermuda every day.
Six days-a-week she’s on the city beat, bright and early at 6am making her rounds moving those who don’t want to be moved.
One client wrote: “I am particularly impressed with Sonya. She is energetic, polite, firm and all the things that we would want in a bike patrol.”
Asked for a response she said: “That makes me feel great.
“For them to say that means a lot because this job isn’t easy and dealing with people with substance abuse and other issues has it challenges daily.
“But it’s the perfect job for me because I love working with people and don’t like being confined to a desk. I work basically on my own and I can hold my own, and most of the people I encounter know that.”
She was also commended by her employer for taking the city street initiative to a new level.
Company CEO, Carlton Crockwell Sr said Ms Smith decided to approach local barbers to work out a haircutting plan for the homeless men she deals with.
“Her main point was that we have tourists on our shores and as a tourist destination, if she could find someone to help make them look better, she had to at least try.
“She got a few businesses to partner with her and when they look bad she takes them to get a haircut,” he said.
Ms Smith said she offered to pay for the haircuts herself and was surprised when barbers offered to do it for free. For her it's a partnership that works, even if its just in the form of a haircut.
Mr Crockwell noted that dealing with street people isn’t easy, especially when they smell bad.
“It’s not pleasant to find a homeless person on your doorstep every morning, drenched in the stench of urine and bad odours in general. And its definitely not good for business to have that outside your door with panhandling.”
Ms Smith noted that at first her requests for vagrants to move was resisted heavily by those who were asked to move. But after eight months on the job that’s changed.
The problem of vagrants sleeping at night and hanging out at the Ferry Terminal on Front Street during the day has changed tremendously. And overall she said most have compiled with requests to sleep elsewhere.
“In the beginning I was verbally abused a lot because they were not used to someone telling them they had to move or that they cannot panhandle outside a store,” she said.
“That’s eased off quite a bit. In one case I followed a guy around on my pedal bike for two hours until he asked me why I was hassling him.
“I told him I wanted him to know what it feels like with him being a nuisance to people on the streets. He got the message, and now he at least tries to take it elsewhere.”
“The man in the photograph and I clashed on a regular basis in the beginning, but now we get along just fine.
“He’s really a nice guy until he gets his alcohol in, but we work it out all the time.”
Ms Smith lamented the fact that most of the men she encounters living on the streets are there by choice because they don’t want to live by any rules.
“There’s places for them to go for shelter but they don’t want to. They’d rather do what they want with no rules and spend their lives daily drinking booze.
“I’ve also seen vagrants take advantage of other vagrants who cannot defend themselves, and that to me is really sad.
“But there are some deep underlying issues here and at some point we need to sort it out as a community,” she said.
“As a tourist destination we need to, because their presence on city streets looks bad.”
Either way she’s looking forward to the upcoming tourist season. And God willing she said: “I will still be out on my pedal bike, six days-a-week at 6am.
“I’ve met a lot of tourists from all over the world, a lot of them want me to come and visit them, and a lot have come back to see me again.”
Meanwhile, Security Associates has an estimated 200 applications in hand from people looking to work in security.
The company will be looking to hire later this year, with the first set of new jobs to become available when Spring is in the air.