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Weeks calls for homeless centre

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The island “desperately needs a multi-purpose facility” to shelter its homeless, government backbencher Michael Weeks implored the House of Assembly.

Mr Weeks called upon MPs on both sides of the House “with as much passion as I can muster” to put the issue “on the top of any agenda”.

Sylvan Richards, the Shadow Minister of Home Affairs and the Environment, backed his call and Martha Dismont, the executive director of Family Centre was “very grateful” last night that the issue had been raised in Parliament.

Mr Weeks, who served as Minister of Social Development and Sport for nine months last year, cited the example of “a young man discovered living among the bushes” and displaced by the construction of a new St Regis hotel in St George's.

The Pembroke East Central MP added: “Excavators cutting down trees stumbled on his well put-together space. He had rooms he had created with bedrooms for him and his children.

“This man, who was truly an architect in his own right, had been living in the brush unbeknown to us.”

Mr Weeks also pointed to a profile by The Royal Gazette of Patrick Henderson, a 58-year-old man sleeping rough on the streets of Hamilton.

“Mr Henderson and I are the same age, and he can be seen trying to avoid the elements in the abandoned building across from Victoria Park.”

Speaking during the motion to adjourn on Friday, he told the House that “these stories could be repeated 100 times over”.

As a volunteer at the Salvation Army's shelter on North Street in Hamilton, Mr Weeks said he had witnessed its poor state and “heard first-hand of the struggles of this growing segment of our society”.

The Progressive Labour Party and One Bermuda Alliance administrations have both promised to move the Salvation Army to a newly refurbished Bishop Spencer building on The Glebe Road in Pembroke.

However, that plan, first announced in 2014, has never come to fruition.

Mr Weeks commended public works for repairs to the existing shelter.

However, he said it was “time for us as a country” to invest in a full-time complex to meet the needs of the homeless.

“This is not finger-pointing at our government, but a clarion call to both sides and the community at large to assist in addressing this issue of homelessness once and for all.

“This is a bipartisan issue. We can't continue to beat our collective chests talking about our standard of living when we have people, largely black men, living on the streets, doorways and parks.”

Mr Richards supported the comments and told the House: “A country is only judged by how we treat and take care of the least of us, and we have a problem in this country, obviously, with homelessness.”

He spoke about “primarily black men” sleeping on benches and in bushes.

The OBA MP said: “It's easy to become immune and almost blinded to the plight of our homeless people, so when the member, MP Weeks, got to his feet earlier today, he touched me with his comments.”

He urged the Government to provide an update on the Bishop Spencer building, which he said was proposed to include not only housing but also facilities such as drug rehabilitation programmes and assistance with mental health or help to develop life skills.

Mr Richards said: “There has been radio silence on that in recent months.”

He added: “This should be a bipartisan effort, this is something that we all agree on.

“We are put here in this place for a reason and taking care of our homeless is a noble one.”

Ms Dismont said last night: “I think all of us who are actively problem-solving this issue welcome the fact that it was raised in Parliament.

“We have multiple needs as a community and this is another one, there are so many priorities.”

She added: “I am certainly very grateful that it has been raised.”

Ms Dismont said some conversations about how to tackle homelessness had recently covered the possibility of a day centre that could be run in partnership with the Department of Workforce Development.

She said this could be a less- costly scheme than a stand-alone housing facility because a number of agencies could offer their resources.

Ms Dismont also explained that assistance could be tailored to individuals so that they could gather skills to sustain themselves independently.

Top of agenda: Michael Weeks (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
One of Hamilton's homeless (File photograph)
Sylvan Richards, the Shadow Minister of Home Affairs and the Environment (File photograph)
Martha Dismont, the executive director of Family Centre (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 13, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 13, 2019 at 7:28 am)

Weeks calls for homeless centre

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