Homeless cook: I just need help

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Doownath Isaac. Photo by Elizabeth Gonzales.

ELIZABETH GONZALES and NICHOLAS BAYLEY

A 54-year-old man is asking for help to get off the streets after losing everything he had during the pandemic.

Doownath Isaac was spotted resting under a tree on Petra Street, Woodbroook, where he told Newsday on Wednesday unforeseen circumstances, coupled with problems caused by the pandemic, had left him destitute.

Isaac told his story days after Woodbrook residents complained to mayor Joel Martinez of an increase in socially displaced people taking up residence along the streets in the area during the Port of Spain Corporation’s monthly statutory meeting last Friday at City Hall.

Isaac lived with his parents at Observatory Street, Port of Spain. When they died, almost 20 years ago, he moved in with his sister in Woodbrook after he was thrown out of his parents’ home by another relative.

While living in Woodbrook, he helped out at his sister’s senior citizens’ home on Petra Street as a chef and sometimes he would care for residents in the home.

“I spent the last 20 years helping people and now when I need help, there’s no one here for me…I’m not homeless, you know, I just want to get somewhere to live. I don’t do drugs and things, I just want to better my life.”

In tears, he pointed to the seniors’ home, just a stone’s throw away from where he sat, holding a garbage bag with a few clothes and documents inside it.

Isaac said when his sister fell ill in 2020, right before the start of the pandemic his life spiralled out of control. He was asked to leave his sister’s home and fired from working there soon after.

“She died after they cut her legs off, her kidneys shut down, and nothing went properly.

“I have nobody, I miss my sister so much, and it’s hard.”

He struggled to find a job, as restaurants and other food establishments were affected by the government’s restrictions to contain the covid19 virus.

Since then he’s been living on the pavement in Woodbrook for the past three years. He refuses to go to the Centre for Socially-Displaced People at Riverside Plaza. He said he feels safer on the streets than at the centre, because he does not enjoy being around excessive drug users.

“They taking drugs and cocaine. I don’t mix up with them thing.”

Additionally, Isaac explained that the businesses around the area often give him meals, so he does not mind being on that particular street.

Isaac became inconsolable when he told Newsday thieves had made off with his two phones, passport and visa.

Throughout the interview, Isaac frantically foraged through his bag in search of his ID card and realised it was missing. At this realisation, he became distraught.

“First they thief my phone, Bmobile and Digicel, because sometimes I does sleep away here. I’m not sure when it happened. But I studying my ID card.

“I don’t take drugs, nothing. My other sister has two houses, (but) she said, ‘Nobody coming back there,’ and when I went home all the police were there. She told them I’m wanted. I’m not wanted.”

An employee of Fitt Street Market told Newsday the increase in homelessness began spiking around eight months ago.

A Woodbrook resident remarked that it is impossible to distinguish between who is homeless and who is not, saying some people merely “play the fool.”

Minister of Social Development and Family Services Donna Cox could not be reached for comment last Friday and Wednesday.

Founder of the Homeless Assistance Office NGO Anthony Salloum said he has over 300 people to deal with and complained that talks between Martinez and himself did not go as planned.

Martinez said they completed mediation in January after a court case between the corporation, Salloum and a homeless man in 2016.

But on Wednesday Salloum said both sides are once again before the court trying to find a workable solution to have the homeless shelter on the ground floor of Riverside Plaza carpark opened.

But that facility must not be the solution, he said.

“These people need to get the help they needed. Each case is unique.”

He preferred not to say much about the discord between Martinez and his NGO except for, “This will come to an end, one way or the other.”