The Night Shelter: a place to stay for those who have nowhere else to go by Nigel Williams
Stabroek News
March 17, 2002

Related Links: Articles on features
Letters Menu Archival Menu

"A night at this place is like a night in jail, but I guess I have to be thankful to God; all that you get here is some free food, sometimes a piece of clothing and a place to stay," were the words of a destitute single mother of two whose temporary home is at the Night Shelter located behind the East La Penitence Police station.

Some two years ago the Night Shelter facility was established by the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security under the auspices of former Minister Indranie Chandarpal. The Night Shelter seeks to provide a shelter for the homeless in the evenings and also affords them the opportunity of having a bath, dinner, and breakfast in morning. The shelter is designed to cater for over 100 destitute people every night, although the average number of people who take advantage of its services is 90.

Administrator of the shelter, Harrydat Tilku, who has been recently appointed told Stabroek News that even though the odds were heavily stacked against the shelter it had been able carry out its functions. Speaking about the operations Tilku said that from 2:30 pm to 8:00 pm every day the destitute were registered to stay at the centre. He said the registration process had been introduced so as to keep track of the time when a person entered the shelter.


He said before anyone came into the compound, his/her bags and person were usually checked for offensive weapons or prohibited substances. After they entered the shelter, they would take a bath, have a change of clothing and then uplift a chit to collect their dinner. He explained that the same procedure was followed in the morning before they left.

The administrator said that dinner was served between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm every night, and after dinner the residents would usually play a few games and then go to bed. He said that bedtime was at 10:00 pm.

According to him, there would also be regular counselling sessions and prayer services conducted by the Central Assemblies of God Church. The shelter has a staff of 16 which includes an administrator, cleaners, handyman, receptionist and supervisors. Tilku said that some of the inmates would usually assist in cleaning the place and those who had skills would help repair broken walls, etc.

Before dinner, he explained, there would be an inspection to ensure that those who had been admitted kept their surroundings clean and tidy. He said during the inspection his staff would look for dirty clothing and anything else that was not allowed in the shelter. He said many days offensive weapons were taken out of the drawers of residents. Besides there had been cases where persons had been banned from the shelter because of consistently delinquent behaviour. Tilku cited the example a man who had been caught five times stealing and others who had quarrelled, fought and threatened other residents. He mentioned that in cases where the matter was too grave for him to handle, the police next door were called in. Many of the residents, he said, were not willing to comply with the shelter's rules and regulations, and as such some of them had stopped coming while others kept complaining. He said that the ministry was committed to delivering a worthwhile service to the people but noted that it was very difficult to run an institution where people were not accustomed to the way of life that they were being asked to follow.

Early to bed

While visiting the shelter Stabroek News observed that many of the older residents, after having had dinner sat in a shed nodding their heads, while others could be seen in conversation with one another. Some of the men were staggering in a state of apparent intoxication, and a few even made advances to the women. Since they had nothing to do, many of them went to bed very early - the old women at 8 o'clock.

At the shelter the men outnumber the women, while the women tended to be aged. The night this newspaper visited, there were a few able-bodied men between ages of 30-50. The sleeping quarters for the males and females are separated, but the newspaper was told that there had been instances where some males had managed to go into the sleeping quarters of the women.

The shelter does not provide clothing for the residents, neither does it provide detergent and toiletries. It also does not accept disabled persons who would normally be referred to other institutions like the Palms. Many of the residents complained that they were made to purchase toilet paper, and because they were not working it was very difficult. "I am here because I cannot afford a home; everything you have to buy here except food," an old woman complained.

She said the little pension that she would normally receive had to be used to purchase soap and many other things that would make her comfortable. Observing the sleeping quarters Stabroek News noticed some of the older women using plastic bottles for their pillows while others used their bags. All of the mattresses were without sheets and those who did not sleep on them as they were, used their clothes to do duty as mattress covers.

The ground floor when this newspaper visited, was very clean but the residents' clothing, most of which had not been washed for a long time, gave off an unpleasant odour. Some of the older women of the shelter indicated that they were finding it very difficult to wash their own clothes because of their condition. One female resident, told this newspaper that Mondays and Fridays she would normally beg on the streets. She said sometimes there was not very much food, and because they were usually on the road all day even when they finished eating they were still hungry.

Another resident, a man, said that one day after receiving his dinner he went back for some more and was unceremoniously turned away. He said sometimes donors would visit the shelter and give them food which would help to satisfy them. In addition, despite the fact that Stabroek News had not seen it, after dinner the residents would play games,

The men's sleeping area looked somewhat neglected, and most of the residents were lying on their beds with all of their bags.

Mother of two

Lying in one of the 149 beds at the shelter was a 38-year-old mother of two. She said she had been forced to leave a relative's home because he had treated her unkindly. "Where I used to live is just like this place. One day I was looking at the television and heard about the night shelter so I decided to come."

The single mother has been a resident at the shelter since its opening and her two sons - one aged nine and the other, twelve - are also with her there. She said that many days when she washed her clothing the smoke emanating from a furnace nearby would soil it again, and when she complained nothing much was done to help her. "This is not my place so I will have to tek what me get," she said.

The mother told this newspaper that she had been living with a man for two years during which time she had got her last child, but that he too had treated her unkindly and because her family had turned their backs on her she had been forced to live on the streets.

The night shelter does not cater for residents during the day and as such the woman said that when she left in the morning she would usually go around the town begging, praying for the night to set in. She said that even though the institution provided her with a shelter she did not have a bed sheet, hence she used her clothes to spread on her mattress. She complained that there were times when foods that she was allergic to were prepared, which meant that she could not get food that particular night.

The administrator in response to this said that the shelter could not adequately cater for special diets since it was just only providing a shelter for people.

The mother said that she was hoping for a better life. "Right now I am not comfortable here; a little food, a place to sleep and sometimes a piece of clothing are not all to life. I am hoping for the day when I would get four walls with a door, that's what I am looking forward for."


While there Stabroek News also met a man and his reputed wife sitting in the benab chatting. The man, 68, was seen hugging his wife, 47, and he told this newspaper that the two of them had been living together for over two years. The shelter though allowing couples to rest at night does not tolerate them sleeping together. However, the couple indicated that they were enjoying their stay at the shelter. "What you are going to do? You can walk all day but not all night," the man said.

The man told Stabroek News that he had met his wife at the Dharm Shala while they both had been living there. He said that he was in the habit of helping people and one day the woman had come up to him and from that day he had fallen in love with her. He said that he had been living on the streets for eight years now and had been put out of his house by a relative who now resides overseas.

He described his wife as a wonderful person noting that it was her kindness and care which had caused him to be with her. He had grown up in the Stevedore Housing Scheme and had 11 children. He said that he had never married, but his children's mother now resided overseas with one of his daughters. The man said that all that he needed now was to get back his house, after which he would marry his reputed wife.

Meanwhile, the woman, giving a bit of her past life confessed that her parents had been very poor, which had forced them into begging for a living. She said many days her siblings along with her parents had watched with longing eyes at their parents who stood helpless. She noted that they had been living in an old house which had belonged to her father's family and when her father died they were put out of the home. She said that she had been forced to live on the streets at age 14, but that a man had subsequently seen her and decided to live with her. She said he provided her with food and all of the other necessities and she bore him two children.

She said all this time her siblings went to other places and her mother went to the Dharm Shala to stay. According to her the union with the man did not last and he later put her out. Later she went to live at the Dharm Shala where she met her present reputed husband.