Gangsters who are illegally occupying Housing Development Corporation houses in East Port of Spain are playing a game of cat and mouse with the police.
The illegal occupants stay away during the daytime but return to “their” HDC apartments at nights, the Sunday Express has been informed.
They have brought in new furniture and curtains and have thrown out the belongings of the legitimate owners onto the streets, where they have been exposed to the elements and thieves.
A number of residents recalled to the Sunday Express the terror of being thrown out of their HDC homes by gangsters.
Several say they are homeless now while others are still being threatened with death.
Such is their fear that none of the residents wanted their photos taken even though they agreed to speak with the Sunday Express.
James Jack, one such occupant, is now homeless, after living in an apartment at Building 64 on Duncan Street for the past 21 years.
He owes not one cent to the HDC.
“They loot out all of my things; they sold my washing machine and tear down all the family photos off the walls. My bed is broken. I am homeless, begging lodging at a friend. They put out at least about ten families from their apartments,” Jack said.
He said the violence did not end there. The gangsters, he said, followed a former tenant to Maloney, where she was seeking temporary relief and set her car on fire. He also fears for his daughter’s life after a threat was made that they would “get her” at her school.
This is the latest development involving the unlawful occupation of Government homes in the violence-ridden East Port of Spain area by gang members.
It has been a week since Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal and his team met with a high-level team of police officers, including acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, to forge a plan to remove gang members who are illegally occupying apartments.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson said yesterday despite complaints by tenants that criminals had forced them out of their apartments, there was no evidence to support this.
“All I can say is that we are investigating these serious allegations made against gang members. But they (the tenants) haven’t identified any gang members. So far we have not seen anything to support their allegations…we have not met any illegal occupants in any of the apartments,” he said.
But while the police investigate, families are being separated and destroyed.
Sharon Sancho, another “homeless” victim, said she had to vacate her apartment at Building 27 on Duncan Street after receiving threats from gang members.
Her family is broken up and everybody is living all over the place, she said.
Sancho suffers from hypertension and is forced to attend two clinics to deal with her problem which she said is exacerbated by the stress of being homeless.
She has been a HDC tenant for 17 years and owes the Corporation nothing.
For her part, Susan Williams who was forced to flee her HDC apartment at Building 34 is not convinced that the police are doing enough.
“We are still a homeless family with kids. What evidence the police waiting for? We know for a fact that there are other occupants from the area living there at the place. They are living at Nelson Street. The furniture and curtains are not ours,” she said.
Grandmother Carol Mazelie is one of the more defiant ones.
But this is because her apartment at Building 42/44 is home to her several grandchildren aged two to 13 years.
“I am still receiving threats to leave this place and my life and my grandchildren at risk, but I don’t know what steps to take. I don’t know where to turn. The police are supposed to stay in the area during the nighttime but they are not.
“There is shooting everywhere. This is not right, but I went to the police and to the HDC and I don’t know where else to turn to.”
Following the killings of Nyam Antoine at Building #64 at Duncan Street and his pregnant cousin Rasheeda Gomez, 16, last week, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the building will be converted into a joint army and police post.
In the meantime, grandmother Mazelie said she takes care of all of her grandchildren and they are doing fine. Her grandson, she said, only just passed his Secondary Examination Assessment (SEA) for St Anthony’s College.
While she can comfortably make ends meet because she is employed and one of her daughters is a pharmacist, Mazerlie said the threats and fear are a lot to bear.
But she has nowhere to live and has opted to stay in her apartment.
But this was not the case for Michelle Rodney.
Rodney, who has been living in an apartment at Building 34/42, George Street, has vacated her home and handed back the keys to the HDC.
Since moving out, Rodney said she has received no comfort from the police.
“Nothing is being done, by anyone and the police are not doing anything,” she said. Like the others she has made a formal report to the Besson Street Police.
Rodney said: “We are living with monsters. We have to be constantly running for our lives. On top of that we have to pay bills and the stress is just too much. We always have to be looking over our shoulders and we don’t know who to trust. Right now, I am living in a bubble with no windows and no doors, and what is even more frustrating is that I am a born Trinidadian and this is my home. It is very hard.”