GOVERNMENT will be seeking to remove hundreds of socially displaced persons in Port of Spain and Chaguanas as part of a six-month pilot project being launched this Christmas, reported Minister of the People and Social Development Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh.
He made the announcement at a media conference held Wednesday at his ministry's offices on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain.
Ramadharsingh said the ministry received $8 million in the first phase and have gone back to Cabinet for a further $8 million to procure vehicles and equipment and other facilities. He reported the socially displaced population was estimated to be 1,480 people with 467 in Port of Spain.
He said that for the removal the ministry will be working with NGOs, religious organisations and the Psychiatrists Association. The Unemployment Relief Programme social aspect will offer employment for those who are reintegrating. He noted that with the new developments the target is for 400 people to be removed, up from 36 last year, but they will be "happy" with 200.
"This is not a one-off, this is not a quick fix, this is not a plaster-sore approach...this a holistic intervention," he stressed.
Ramadharsingh noted Government will be focusing first on voluntary removal including engagement, consultation and "big brothering", and this "people" approach will be guided by social workers and psychiatrists. He noted they will be continuing the big brother concept where people from St Vincent de Paul, Vision on Mission and Centre for the Socially Displaced (CSDP) mentor others to leave the street. He also said they are in the process of employing people who have been rehabilitated to be spokespersons for people to leave a life of addiction.
Questioned about socially displaced persons who refuse to leave the streets, Ramadharsingh said they have their own Special Reserve Police Unit but they will only assist in the "move-along campaign" and will not directly engage people, though they can effect the Summary Offences Act.
He reiterated for Christmas the focus will be on voluntary removal and then involuntary later. He stressed it is "a care-sensitive approach" called "to keep the streets of Trinidad and Tobago clean, safe and happy for Christmas with the street-dwellers in mind".
On the Social Displacement Act he said it was ready at the Legislative Review Committee but they wanted to use their experience from the pilot project to guide any amendments.
Ramadharsingh was also questioned on whether he will be working with the City Corporation. Port of Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing has clashed with Government over his own efforts to remove street dwellers. He reported that he met with Lee Sing on Tuesday and the mayor was excited that there would be other people besides him involved in the effort.
Ramadharsingh urged citizens that if they wanted to contribute to the effort they should contribute to St Vincent de Paul, Vision on Mission, restorative ministries or the NGOs involved and "hold back that $5" to a socially displaced person.
"So we must all show a shared responsibility. We can do all the work that we want. If persons wave out $20 and $10 at these persons they will take away the entrepreneurial spirit, they will take away the drive to become a better person. To get a job, to keep a job," he commented.
He made an "impassioned plea" for the business community to support the Social Displacement Inter-agency Unit which comprised skill sets from the National Security Ministry, Health Ministry, Local Government and his own ministry.
"There are a lot of needs that the ministry would not be able to fill very easily but the business community can be a great source of strength and support in this regard," he said.
He noted one specific area of assistance was in the provision of clothing. He said while the plan was starting in Port of Spain and Chaguanas. It would eventually be extended to the entire country.
"On Christmas day when people are feasting and having lots of eats and drinks (with) family and having a festive and joyous time...we want our street dwellers at the CSDP (Centre for Socially Displaced People) to be having breakfast, lunch, dinner, praying, fellowshipping together, and having probably a game of cricket in the afternoon on Christmas day," he added.