Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 4th 2013 Contents A11
Saturday, May 4, 3012 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
A mentally ill street dweller in the vicinity of
Church s Chicken in Port-of-Spain had pedestrians
scurrying when he began picking up bottles and
pelting them at people earlier this week.
Another woman was walking to work on Thursday
with a bag of jelly buns when another street dweller
walked up to her and politely asked, "Can I have a
Yesterday, on Independence Square, a different
street dweller, dirty and barebacked, with a stack of
newspapers under his arm and a rotting foot, tried
to hold a conversation with a group of women. Later,
he walked up St Vincent Street, muttering and shout-
ing intermittently at passers-by, who cast not a glance
Yesterday afternoon, a vagrant with a crocus bag
bundle under his arm walked down Queen Street
loudly freestlying a dancehall.
A quick walk through Port-of-Spain yesterday
from Tamarind Square, a favourite vagrant hangout,
to St Vincent Street yielded 23 street dwellers.
Filthy, mentally ill vagrants have become part of
the landscape of the city. Pedestrians walk past them
as they sleep comfortably on the sidewalk and side
by side with them as they go about their business.
The Ministry of the People and Social Development
began a pilot project last December to remove street
dwellers, but it doesn t appear much has changed.
It s a mammoth task, one that has the Inter Agency
Unit (IAU), in charge of the project, working through
the night sometimes, says Nicole Kingston, social
Up to the last count, there were 1,482 street dwellers
in the densely populated areas of T&T.
The IAU began in Port-of-Spain and counted
between 400 and 500 vagrants. To date, 125 have
been picked up, she said. Of these, 17 have been
Several others of the 125 who were simply homeless
and did not need rehabilitation were given help in
finding work and places to live, she said.
Picking up a street dweller and rehabilitating him
is not a quick and easy task, Kingston said. Walking
the Guardian through the process, she said, "We walk the streets and talk to them, offering
them a place to go. Most of them want to
get off the streets. We are scheduled to do
at least three pick-ups a month.
"As we pick them up, right there and
then, mental health and social workers and
doctors do an assessment.
"They are then taken to Transformed Life
Ministry in Arouca, where another assess-
ment is done and they are fed and made
to shower. They are given a change of cloth-
ing, haircuts, manicures and pedicures.
"The next day they go for all the medical
testing, for HIV, STDs, hepatitis, have a
dental check-up and undergo psychiatric
What the IAU found is that 50 per cent
of those picked up have dual diagnoses, that
is mental and substance abuse issues. Twen-
ty per cent are substance abusers only and
another 20 chronically mentally ill. Some
ten per cent are socially displaced owing to
job loss, family disputes and financial prob-
They come from all over T&T and all
walks of life, Kingston said. "We have an
engineer among us. Some people just can t
deal with stress."
Those with mental and substance abuse
problems undergo psychiatric evaluation
and are stabilised with medication to begin
"It takes about three to six months to get
them stabilised, and remember, we only
began the project last December. We do
treatments to fit the needs of each person."
T&T does not have a proper mental health
programme and the IAU tries to find places
to send those with chronic mental illnesses,
she said. The unit also tries to reconcile
street dwellers with their families.
The former vagrant is then taken to a
transitional housing facility, like New Hori-
zons in Piparo, home of executed drug dealer
Dole Chadee, where his treatment is con-
tinued and he is taught life skills, like how
to open a bank account, apply for a job and
read and write.
"Some of our clients now have jobs and
their own places," Kingston said.
Street dwellers still
posing threat to road users
Vagrants in PoS: 400-500
Picked up since December: 125
Off streets by end of year (planned):
60 per cent
Mental health issues: 20 per cent
Substance abuse issues: 20 per cent
Suffering from both: 50 per cent
Socially displaced: 10 per cent
FLASHBACK: A homeless man on the streets of Port-of-Spain.
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Nicole Kingston is a social worker
specialising in mental health who spent
31 years in the US working in street-
She believes the IAU's programme,
thus far, is successful. Due to the
continuing drug trade, she thinks
removed street dwellers will be quickly
"It's becoming a worldwide
Kingston said the IAU has a staff of
about 22 people which it is looking to
increase to 120. It also plans to solicit the
help of non-governmental organisations.
"By year's end we want to get 60 per
cent of the street dwellers off the
The programme was given an $8.5
million budget and Kingston does not see
it as a burden on the State.
"We are our brothers' keepers. We feel
responsible for our clients as if they were
our children," she said.
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