Fence for Harris Promenade to stop sordid activity at night

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Businessman Neil Mohommed make an address at the Greater San Fernando Chamber of commerce meeting with stakeholders at RRM plaza San Fernando. – Photo by Yvonne Webb

NUDITY, prostitution and other illegal nocturnal activities on Harris Promenade, San Fernando, are among the major factors driving plans to fence it and close off entry at nights.

San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello revealed plans to limit access as he spoke on a panel at a stakeholders’ meeting hosted by the Greater San Fernando Chamber (GSFCC) on Tuesday night.

The GSFCC wants to bring back business to the city.

Street dwellers and homeless people who inhabit Harris Promenade, making it their home, and walk freely among shoppers, were among factors identified as deterrents to business in the city.

Business owners complained that business was dying on High Street, the main shopping area. Businesswomen protested about their personal space being invaded by homeless people who molested them.

Apparently agreeing with the complaints, Regrello told business owners, including GSFCC president Kiran Singh, “There are all sort of nocturnal activities happening there (the promenade) now as we speak. You can buy anything you want on the promenade. There is nudity and prostitution and all kinds of things happening there.” In response, he said the city corporation proposed to fence the promenade “and have it opened between 7 am and 7 pm, to protect the environment and protect the place.”

He commented on the number of schools near the promenade and how many fights and how much bottle- and other missile-pelting took place there daily, saying he feared the day that a schoolchild might be injured.

A stakeholders’ meeting with the public will be held before any decision is taken, he said, but he anticipated objections.

“People may say we are harsh, that the promenade was given by Lord Harris (governor of Trinidad from 1846-53) for the people’s leisure.”

But Regrello described the destructive behaviour of some of the promenade’s users, such as clogging a fountain and damaging its jets, which cost approximately $18,000 to repair. The fountain is now closed.

From left, Hansley Adjodha, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello and president of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce Kiran Singh at a stakeholders meeting at RRM plaza to bring business back to the city of San Fernando. – Photo by Yvonne Webb

He said while there are two shelters in the city to house them, homeless people prefer the promenade, where they are constantly fed, in spite of appeals to take the food to the shelters.

So much food is distributed, Regrello said, that some of the more enterprising recipients collect extra portions, which they later sell to others who were not there when the boxes were given out.

Commenting that where there is food, the homeless will follow, MC Hansley Ajodha also questioned whose souls the well-wishers who fed them were trying to save, “The homeless or themselves?

“While we are philanthropists and altruistic people, we need to develop policies, not laws, whereby we discourage people from feeding on the promenade.”

Acting Insp Fraser, who also sat on the panel, pointed out that street dwelling was not a San Fernando problem, but a TT problem, and legally there was not much the police could do.

“We arrest them, but we don’t get convictions,” he said, sharing an experience he had while working in Port of Spain, where some 150 street dwellers were arrested but were back out on the streets in quick time.

“Court personnel are reluctant to interact with them. They don’t take us seriously. They have a more sympathetic approach to persons in these situations.”

Fraser also said there had been legal challenges to the Ministry of Social Development’s attempt to remove homeless people from the streets.

“We just can’t go and hold street dwellers. They must be committing some serious offence, posing a danger to the public, for without that, there is nothing we can do.”

On those who display violent tendencies, he said there had been some temporary success in taking them to the San Fernando General Hospital, but mentioned one man in particular who constantly walked around naked.

“We tired hold him and put on clothes on him, but he is soon back out walking around naked. It bothers me when I see him – but there is nothing much we can do.”