By Sunita Samaroo
The days roll by but the image remains the same: with no place to call home scores sit, sleep, eat, play and roam the most popular paves and City streets. Under the sweltering sun, young homeless children and their mothers stretch out their hands, hoping for a ‘small change’.
Their food, oftentimes, the offerings of the sympathetic or from the nearest waste pile but with grubby nails, they hold tight and munch into their meals.
Some stoop and excrete without concern on pavements and waterways while others make showers of wherever water could be found. For the average man this may be quite an unsanitary way of living, but to those socially displaced: this is their way of life.
This, the face of homelessness, has gripped the city and other municipalities in the country. But a committee has now been set up to devise a feasible long-term plan to address the issue of vagrancy, City Mayor Hamilton Green has revealed.
Speaking to Kaieteur News yesterday, Green said that a meeting was held last week, with a Senior Police Official, a Prison Officer, along with representatives of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the Ministries of Social Protection, Public Security and Public Health.
According to the longstanding Mayor, during the meeting several suggestions were raised, among them the removal and relocation of the City’s street dwellers. The question of the legality of such a move lingered, however, and legal advice will be sought on the issue.
Many of those who linger on the streets are mentally unsound but addressing this is no simple task in light of the existing Mental Health Legislation.
Currently, it is required that a relative of a suspected mentally ill individual appear before a Magistrate or Judge in a Court of Law and swear to their mental condition before that individual could be committed to psychiatric care.
The reality is that unless vagrants are engaged in any criminal activity they cannot be forcibly removed from the streets. This means that at present, socially displaced people on the streets cannot be forced to go to any of the existing shelters, even if they are occupying the pavements.
At the shelter they receive three meals, a place to sleep, and bathe. But the numbers of the streets have been on a steady rise over the years, Green said.
They have been a slew of complaints and last year, the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman had asked for the issue to be addressed.
Green stressed that vagrants are negatively impacting the city. He emphasized that in some instances when the Council cleans the streets and market places the vagrants rummage through bins in search of food and in the process litter the environment.
“Some of them even pick up vegetables and throw them at people and the Constabulary cannot prosecute unless people come forth with specific complaints,” Green said.
The Council is also concerned about the public health aspect of having vagrants around the City. In addition, to their unsanitary way of living, relieving themselves on pavements and waterways, the presence of the homelessness puts the populace at risk to tuberculosis and other diseases.
The Mayor also pointed to incidents where vagrants have injured and even killed each other.
The City Council has been for years calling for the removal of vagrants on the streets. Human rights activists, however, are reportedly concerned about drastic measures being taken in case the authorities push for their removal.
During the meeting, a suggestion was reportedly made for rounding up vagrants and relocating them in a facility constructed under the previous administration at Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice, according to Green.
The facility, which falls under the purview of the now Ministry of Social Protection (formerly Ministry of Human Services and Social Security) was built with expectation to accommodate over 200 vagrants with the view of having them rehabilitated.
Just recently too, President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association (BCCDA), Ramroop Rajnauth had identified the issue of vagrancy as something the current administration must effectively and urgently address.
This, Rajnauth had said, must be achieved in a comprehensive way, rather than the previous window dressing, since vagrants are having a detrimental effect on Berbice businesses and tourism on a whole. He had said that tourists get the wrong image when they see vagrants on the streets.
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