Society must lend a helping hand Editorial
Stabroek News
September 29, 2003

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In recent weeks the city council has thankfully begun to exert the authority it has been endowed with and has been dismantling ramshackle buildings that have long posed grievous threats to life and limb.

The cityís campaign is long overdue but it has not been without severe repercussions. Three of the derelicts `housedí dozens of people who had nowhere else to go and were down and out in Georgetown. The homeless included dozens of children and single and working mothers.

More than two months after the building at Regent and Wellington streets was torn down, fourteen of the displaced children have been forced to seek refuge on the streets while some of the adults have been reduced to begging for a living. A woman who is seven months pregnant and is unemployed now has to rest her head at night on the empty site without any of the basic comforts. To what kind of brutish life will her child be introduced whenever the delivery date arrives?

At Broad and Lombard streets the story is much the same. Seventeen of the occupants are now squatting on the site. A mother of four is being housed temporarily at a neighbourís place and still has to provide for three of her children who are in school. A man, who is responsible for caring for two of his offspring now has to protect them on the mean streets.

Several of the occupants of the dilapidated Guyana Sports Club ground on Thomas Lands have also been forced to take their chances right on the ground or on the streets. Thankfully, some have found lodging with relatives, friends and Good Samaritans, but for how long?

It is easy to pass judgement on these unfortunate souls and hold them accountable for their plight. We could rightfully ask how they came to be in these circumstances. Why they didnít have jobs or make real efforts to provide for themselves. Or where their fathers, mothers, husbands and wives were. Or why they had been abandoned by their extended families. We should not so readily dismiss them. We all should show some concern for their welfare.

However they ended up in the crisis they are in today, it is up to society to help them find a way to live in more dignified circumstances and to take care of their familial obligations.

Some of the dislocated have not been able to move onto land set aside by the Housing Ministry at Parfait Harmonie on the West Coast of Demerara because development work is still underway. This should be expedited by the ministry as people from a number of areas have been waiting to begin homesteading. For those from the dismantled buildings there isnít much hope that they will soon be able to pay the required house lot fees much less afford building material.

In the backdrop of structural adjustment in the late 1980s and the Economic Recovery Programme, the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP) was established with the specific purpose of easing the burden of reforms on the poor. These efforts were supposed to mesh with the stateís social welfare initiatives. SIMAPís projects are now more geared towards institutional projects to benefit large numbers of people in the more depressed areas. However, many people remain on the poverty line and on the fringes of society. What is lacking at the level of the social security services are exercises to seek out those who are in dire need and to find ways to reach out to them. A poverty mapping exercise is needed for this but where clear cases of indigence and stark deprivation exist - as in the case of those from the dismantled buildings - the responsible ministry and the wide array of service organisations and charitable groups must step in to fill the breach.

Those people who have been tossed out onto the street need at least a roof over their heads, food and care for their children while they set about trying to eke out a living. Couldnít the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security draw up a register of those recently displaced setting out their basic needs and try to have some relief agency or charitable group assist? Couldnít the government set aside some of its take from the lotto fund to at least give them a head start? The industrious ones will take it and run. What about getting the youths into one of the various technical and vocational education programmes?

It is unconscionable that months after they were forced onto the streets these people have been left to fend for themselves without a helping hand from society.