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Homeless to get new facility

A new facility providing accommodation to scores of homeless people could soon be open.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy yesterday announced plans to renovate a disused Government building to provide “dignified emergency housing for the most vulnerable in our community”.

The new complex, which will be housed in the Bishop Spencer building on The Glebe Road in Pembroke, will replace the Salvation Army's current shelter on Marsh Lane in Pembroke.

That facility was opened more than 30 years ago and was at the time intended as a sort-term shelter. In April a task force examining alternative facilities condemned the Marsh Lane home, pointing out that patrons were “wallowing in filth”.

Government has now signed a six-month Memorandum of Understanding with the Salvation Army to examine how the new complex could be transformed into a shelter providing various programmes for homeless people.

At a press conference held outside the Bishop Spencer building, Minster Fahy said that the OBA had pledged in its election platform “to provide good quality transitional housing and support programmes for the most vulnerable in our society”.

“It was recognised that to do this we must replace the Salvation Army's current emergency housing complex location on Marsh Lane, Pembroke — a premises which is unquestionably inadequate in its current form and is in a sad state of repair,” Sen Fahy said.

“Therefore I am pleased to stand with you today to announce that the Ministry of Home Affairs, in consultation with the Ministry of Public Works, have today entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Salvation Army in respect of the use of the Bishop Spencer facility for the purpose of relocating their emergency housing complex programme.

“This six-month MOU will enable the Salvation Army to present plans to the Government in respect of the use of the facility for emergency housing and various programmes, with the aim that a long-term lease will be entered into between the Bermuda Government and the Salvation Army for the use of the facility.

“In February of this year both myself and the Minister of Public Works (along with our respective technical officers) accompanied Major Shawn Critch of the Salvation Army and his Administrator on a tour of several potential new locations, including the old Pembroke Rest Home and the old Prison HQ

“Subsequent to this tour, Major Critch confirmed that it was the position of the Salvation Army Board that the preferred location would be the Bishop Spencer facility. I agreed with this.”

Sen Fahy said that the charity had a well-deserved reputation for successfully operating residential and non-residential programmes in Bermuda, pointing out that the current Marsh Lane shelter provides approximately 20,000 nightly bed spaces annually for the homeless.

“The Salvation Army have been excellent social partners and remain committed to assisting the Government of Bermuda with its ongoing challenges of meeting the needs of the homeless and those less fortunate than others,” he said.

“On a personal note, and by way of explanation as to why the Ministry of Home Affairs has spearheaded this initiative and asked for assistance from the Ministry of Public Works, is that this is something which I have been passionate about for many, many years.

In fact, I wrote about this very issue in the Bermuda Sun in June 2008 when I suggested that the Government at the time fulfil the vision of, and I quote from that article, ‘building a humane society by adequately funding the Emergency Housing Complex and assisting those in real need or, indeed, building a purpose-built facility'.

“This move has been a long time coming. Today's announcement is the first step in a road to providing dignified Emergency Housing for the most vulnerable in our community and in time seeing the back of an aged and decrepit facility that has long passed its useful life.”

Public Works Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, who also attended the press conference, said it was too early to say how much any renovation work would cost or when it will be completed. But she did say that the Bishop Spencer building, which had previously been used as office accommodation for the Ministry of Education before being abandoned five years ago, was structurally sound.

“There is all sorts of equipment that has been left inside the building so obviously the first step is going to have to be to clean it out and to ensure that we hand over to the Salvation Army something that is at least a working start for what their requirements are going to be.

“The building is structurally very sound so I don't believe there's going to be a lot of structural requirements to refurbish the building but with that being said obviously it's going to have to be partitioned off to suit the needs. I believe the Salvation Army is looking at a module-type furnishing so we will work with them to ensure that whatever is required is provided.”

Major Shawn Critch of the Salvation Army thanked Government, saying: “The Salvation Army is very pleased to find itself in this position today. It represents a culmination of a conversation that commenced in August 2012 with the former Attorney General Kim Wilson.

“The Salvation Army is certainly committed to the feasibility study that we are undertaking for this facility and looking forward to really enhancing the services that we would offer in partnership with Government to the marginalised in our community.”

The Salvation Army's current facility on Marsh Lane could soon be replaced. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 05, 2014 at 1:21 pm (Updated June 06, 2014 at 12:42 pm)

Homeless to get new facility

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