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Salvation Army offered ‘generous’ lease

Details emerge: Minister of Home Affairs, Michael Fahy, looks out at the old Bishop Spencer Building. The building is to be rented to the Salvation Army for a $1 annual peppercorn lease, according to the Ministry of Public Works (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

The disused Bishop Spencer building on The Glebe Road, Pembroke is to be rented to the Salvation Army for a $1 annual peppercorn lease, according to the Ministry of Public Works.

Details emerged in response to parliamentary questions for the minister, Craig Cannonier, from Rolfe Commissiong of the Progressive Labour Party.

However, Mr Commissiong, unable to attend Friday’s sitting of Parliament owing to illness, lamented that he had been unable to “drill down” in person on the responses provided.

“The minister gave a perfunctory answer as to whether they would put resources into the current site,” the Pembroke South East MP said of the present shelter off North Street, which is beset by a deteriorating infrastructure.

Asked if the ministry intended to provide the charity with “the necessary resources to effectuate long overdue renovations”, Francis Richardson, the Permanent Secretary of Public Works, gave a brief response to the House of Assembly, answering: “Yes, the ministry will continue to do so.”

Although he praised the “very, very generous” lease that had been offered, Mr Commissiong told The Royal Gazette: “The problem is, we have never seen that investment in renovation. We haven’t seen resources being provided to at least close up those areas that are open to the elements. I was hoping something would have been done by this winter. I feel for the clients that have endured the weather of the last five months. It’s shameful on all of us that they have had to do so.”

It has been 2½ years since the Government announced plans to retool the Bishop Spencer building as a new emergency shelter complex.

According to the parliamentary responses, Cabinet has approved the redevelopment of the Bishop Spencer site for a new emergency housing centre that would include traditional housing.

“One could say this is at the very least a welcome development, in that it appears that the Government has firmed up its side of the proposal,” Mr Commissiong said.

However, he said the answers did not show whether resources would be provided “in part or in full”.

“Even if the miraculous funds that the Salvation Army would need to renovate the site of Bishop Spencer are made available somehow, you’re still talking six to eight months, minimum, to have that site ready to accept clients. We should not be in a country as affluent as Bermuda and have persons who are homeless subjected to these conditions.”

Major Frank Pittman, Bermuda’s Salvation Army divisional commander, was not available yesterday to give the organisation’s take on the offer.

With demand running as high as its funds are limited, Major Pittman told this newspaper in October that the charity would be unable to cover the cost of refurbishing the Bishop Spencer facility by itself.

Mr Commissiong estimated it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars to render it habitable for the roughly 30 residents of the existing shelter.

His parliamentary questions included a query whether, “in lieu of the conclusion of the aforementioned negotiations”, the ministry would commit to repairing the weak points at the North Street facility — such as the blocked drain that “routinely” flooded in heavy rains.

The response said the ministry would “continue to support the Salvation Army at this site and carry out the external repairs where we can until negotiations on the Bishop Spencer site have concluded”.

Mr Commissiong, who complained last year that the relocation seemed to have stalled, said he could only hope that “the minister and his technical team will get together and find the resources to make the current site habitable”.