Homeless shelter at Riverside carpark to close by August 31

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The section of the Riverside Complex carpark which is being used as a shelter for homeless people and street dwellers. – ROGER JACOB

The homeless shelter at Riverside Plaza carpark will be closed at the end of August and better accommodation will be provided for occupants, according to Social Development and Family Service Minister Donna Cox.

In a WhatsApp response on Saturday, Cox said the 72 people who live there will be relocated to more suitable accommodation but did not say where.

She said half of the carpark was retrofitted to be the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons in 1990 and was a temporary solution to provide shelter for homeless people and street dwellers in Port of Spain. There has been a sharp rise in street dwellers in the capital city since March 2020 after the pandemic was declared.

Cox said alternative accommodation has been identified which will provide an improved “quality of life for the displaced population, including street dwellers” sees the closure of the facility as an “opportunity to actively rehabilitate and empower persons towards a better quality of life.”

In a release on Saturday, the Society of St Vincent de Paul says it is disappointed by the government’s decision to close down the centre.

Anthony Salloum, founder of the NGO Homeless Assistance Office said the ministry’s PS, Jacqueline Johnson, informed him via WhatsApp that the centre was going to be closed at the end of August but the closure was pushed back until the end of September.

The society said in 1991 it entered into a contractual arrangement with the government through the ministry to operate a temporary centre for socially displaced persons at the Riverside carpark.

It said the society had to provide the ministry with reports, including financial reports, on the operation of the centre, and it had done so over the years up to December 31, 2021. It said the society’s 2018 audited accounts were submitted in 2019, but the 2019, 2020 and 2021 audited accounts were delayed although they should be available during the fourth quarter of this year.

The centre has a maximum capacity of 200 people to be cared for by a staff of 14.

The society operates 11 homes in TT in line with its mission of providing care and assistance to the “poorest of the poor,” and its volunteers worked in 64 communities throughout the country.

Its work in TT, which it had been doing since 1857, was funded mainly by the private sector, residents’ contributions, members of the public, and fundraising activities. The government provided funds specifically for state-supported projects.

However, due to the pandemic over the last two years, there had been reduced fundraising activities and donations, and significantly increased expenses. There was also a high turnover of staff.