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Cox defends closure of Riverside homeless shelter


A resident leaves the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons at Riverside Plaza carpark when it was closed on September 1. – SUREASH CHOLAI

SOCIAL Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox defended the decision to close the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons (CSDP) at Riverside Plaza carpark in Port of Spain on September 1.

In her contribution to the budget debate in the House of Representatives, Cox said, “The venue had outgrown its original purpose, and thus as a result, it became necessary to relocate the residents.”

In 1991, she continued, the CSDP was established as a component of the continuum of care for socially displaced persons and was envisioned to be a cumulative effort among public, private, and nonprofit entities to address social displacement, through the engagement of street dwellers and provision of of 52 temporary shelters; transitional housing and services and finally, permanent housing.”

But subsequent task forces and inter-ministerial committees over the years determined the CSDP was not fit for purpose and should be closed.

Cox dispelled a narrative being advanced by the UNC and other people that homeless people at the CSDP were thrown out on the street when it was closed.

She related accounts of different homeless people at the centre who refused to be relocated when it was closed.

In each case, Cox said the names she was giving were not the real names of these people, so as to protect their identity.

“Ms Ramlogan stated that she is not homeless but has a house in Borde Narve and comes to the street to hang out.”

Cox said a man named Edward Collier did not want to be relocated unless “he and his girlfriend (who also lived at the CSDP) can be accommodated in the same home and room.”

After saying many people who were living at the centre who declined placement in other facilities were unemployed, Cox said many of them “were using the facility as a hostel.”

She added that in one case a man” decided that he wanted to get married as his girlfriend was also at the facility.”

Cox said the ministry is now “meeting with relevant stakeholders, acquiring and outfitting a suitable venue to be used as a temporary assessment centre and the voluntary engagement of street dwellers throughout the country.”

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In the long term, the ministry is looking at establishing or upgrading facilities in Carapo, Arima and Port of Spain to assist in the accommodation of socially displaced people who need rehabilitation services.

Cox said, “It is incorrect, if not a bit unfair, for persons to say that people have been left on the street. This has never been the case. We cannot force anyone to accept our services.”

Later in the sitting, Chaguanas East MP Vandana Mohit claimed the budget continues to “diss the public of TT.”

She rejected all of Cox’s earlier statements and what she said was a narrative that the UNC did not care about people.

“The UNC has always focused on people-centred governance.”

Mohit accused the PNM of showing “callous disregard for the poor and vulnerable.” She claimed a basket of basic food items under the UNC that cost $341.99 while now cost $648.97 under the PNM.

“Under a UNC government, the people of this country could have lived.”