OBA questions disuse of hurricane shelter for homeless
The Government has been accused of abandoning the most vulnerable after failing to provide emergency shelter for the homeless as Hurricane Lee swept passed Bermuda last week.
A temporary shelter for the homeless is usually set up in the gymnasium of CedarBridge Academy when a hurricane threatens.
But although the Emergency Measures Organisation enforced a number of precautionary initiatives as the Category 2 hurricane approached the island last Thursday, no shelter for the homeless was provided.
Instead Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, who was Acting Minister of National Security last week, said that anyone needing protection from tropical storm winds should get help from “appropriate agencies”.
Last night that decision was condemned by the opposition One Bermuda Alliance, which said that a failure to protect those most in need was “concerning”.
The senator Robin Tucker added that Colonel Burch should have provided more information on what organisations could be contacted to provide assistance to those living rough.
Ms Tucker, who is also the OBA spokeswoman on Home Affairs, Health, and Social Development said: “Indications are that there are increased numbers of homeless people in Bermuda and the charities are hard pressed to keep up with the needs.
“How is it that a government that claims to care about its people does not ensure that an emergency shelter — even a makeshift one — is open during a hurricane?
“While it is concerning that the emergency shelter was not open to receive people in need, the public were not even given the names of the agencies that could assist them.
“Information should have been given in minister Burch’s statements and announcements on the radio, the news and other media would have at least let people, especially vulnerable groups, know that they were thought about and directed them to specific places.”
Ms Tucker acknowledged that the CedarBridge shelter, which is run by government personnel and volunteers, was “a costly undertaking” and that certain weather criteria had to be met before the EMO could authorise opening it.
But she emphasised that “a clearly communicated plan setting out names” should have been given to the public “so people know what was available to them” if the CedarBridge facility was not going to be available.
She said: “There is another storm brewing that may possibly come in our direction in a week or so and while it is too early to tell if it will directly impact us, my hope is that if it does become a real concern, the Government will ensure that the shelter at CedarBridge is open.
“If it is not, at least the public — especially those who do not have access to social media and the internet — are made aware of the options for shelter. Leaving people to ‘figure it out’ when they need help most is certainly not the best we can do for our people.”
Responding to that criticism, Colonel Burch last night said that the EMO had ruled that Lee had not posed a big enough threat to justify opening the facility — even though other government services such as public schools and transport schedules were shut down as the hurricane approached. Friday’s scheduled sitting of the House of Assembly was also postponed.
Colonel Burch said: "Regarding the government shelter, the Emergency Measures Organisation executive deemed that the threshold required to justify the shelter's opening had not been met on this occasion, based on the storm's severity.
"We are very thankful that the island emerged from Hurricane Lee without any loss of life and reports of serious injuries.
"I am always sympathetic to the plight of our homeless residents. We recognise that when faced with a serious storm such as Hurricane Lee, there can be a lot of anxiety in the community as a result.
“Historically, shelters were not opened for tropical storm force winds such as was the case during Hurricane Franklin and Idalia – when the shelter was not mobilised.
"In such circumstances, we encourage any resident needing safe refuge to seek the services of the Salvation Army emergency shelter.
"Having said that, there are always opportunities after a storm to make adjustments and review policies and procedures for the next event."
A government spokesman explained that the emergency shelter was not solely for rough sleepers.
“It is also for people concerned about flooding or potential damage to their homes during a storm and those who might have suffered such damage due to the storm,” they said.
“In this case and in light of the forecast, this decision was taken based on the likelihood of the shelter not being required in those circumstances.”