About 26 street dwellers were removed from Port of Spain on Wednesday night during an exercise by the City Corporation under Mayor Louis Lee Sing.
The exercise began along Frederick Street shortly after 10 p.m. when City Corporation trucks along with trucks belonging to Amalgamated Security Services Ltd were used to transport the street dwellers as they were gathered.
Police officers and members of the public formed one team before spreading themselves throughout the streets of Port of Spain in search of the street dwellers.
At the bottom of Frederick Street, several of them had to be held by both legs and arms and forced into the vehicles. One man, on planning his escape, complained of not feeling well, before being made to rest along the pavement. Seconds after, he tried jumping into an open manhole but was recaptured and taken away.
After being loaded onto the trucks, they were taken to the carpark of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) at the top of Henry Street where they were made to shower and given a change of clothing before being taken to the City Police Headquarters on Knox Street.
Police said their records reflected that in all, 26 street dwellers were arrested in Port of Spain and St James. However, 30 of them appeared before Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar in the Port of Spain court yesterday charged with loitering.
Of the 30, five of them were sent to the St Ann's Hospital for mental evaluation while the others were remanded into custody at the Frederick Street prison to reappear in court on varying dates next month.
Several of them gave addresses to the court, indicating they had family members residing at those addresses.
Ayers-Caesar questioned why attempts were not made to determine if the men did indeed have family members in order to have them become involved in the matters.
"The problem is, some of these people have family members so maybe you should get the families involved. We cannot just take these people and send them to St Ann's or to prison while we await their tracing," said Ayers-Caesar.
She said had the families been contacted, it would have been determined if the dwellers could have been granted bail and placed into the custody of their relatives until the matters were determined.
Lee Sing described the growing number of street dwellers as disturbing and an infringement on the right to safety of the citizenry.
He said the issue of street dwelling was one of growing concern which needed urgent attention and accused the government of being inactive in addressing the issue.
He said, as a result of this, the corporation was placed in the position to continue the exercises which were halted two years ago following the government's intervention.
However, during an emergency meeting yesterday evening, Minister of the People and Social Development, Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, denied the mayor's claims, stating that the government was actively pursuing a solution to the problem of street dwelling.
Ramadharsingh said his ministry together with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had drafted plans to deal with the issue and was currently awaiting advice from Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Cabinet's approval before putting those plans in place.
He said in the space of two months from December last year, the ministry was successful in having 40 street dwellers voluntarily remove themselves from the streets through simple conversations.
He further added that the government was not going to entertain quick fixes, but was instead looking at establishing a long-term solution by taking a holistic approach.