Vagrants get thrifty

President of the Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society, Kemar Saffrey.

by Kimberley Cummins

The Barbados Vagrants and Homeless Society is celebrating its third anniversary with the launch of the BVHS Thrift shops.

The first will be opened on November 1 at the Popular Supermarket complex in Spooner’s Hill, St. Michael. Three others will come on stream at Oistins in Christ Church, Six Roads in St. Philip and Speightstown in St. Peter at later dates.

In a recent interview with Barbados TODAY at its Bay Street offices, President of the Society, Kemar Saffrey, said that the purpose of the thrift shops was to create revenue to maintain the programmes being offered by the society. These include: At The Crossroads (housing project); LOST – Life Opportunities Superseding Tomorrow; and Direct Care Ministry. The main function of BHVS is to counsel, mentor, motivate, rehabilitate and re-integrate homeless people into the society.

Since its establishment, Saffrey said, the organisation has recorded many successes. These include “taking young men off the street”, rehabilitating and placing 12 back into society and now working with another six who have completed the nine-month drug rehabilitation programme at Verdun House. Additionally, in August they started a six-month Reintegration Into Society programme.

Of the six, three have received employment so far while the others were still going through the programme.

Rehabilitation success

“I think within our first year of doing the rehab we have successfully placed men back into society and obviously for us that is a big achievement, and having taken on another set of guys is a bigger achievement. And seeing that these guys have already successfully gone through nine months of rehabilitation and now they are in our programme for the six months with us [is also significant],” he added.

“The guys are being employed and we have grown over the years. We have seen the methods that we are using work,” Saffrey said.

He appealed to Barbadians to donate clothing or any items that could be put on sale at the store to earn funds to help the long list of people in the programme. Though they were working very closely with the Ministry of Social Care, he said he believed that the other ministries needed to come on board since the issue had a wider reach of just being a social one.

“We have a long list of people wanting to get into this programme but we could only help so many. We only have funding for so many homes so we need to get out there some more,” Saffrey pointed out.

“Vagrancy is not only a social problem. We are not structured to deal with deportation but we realise when they come here and they become homeless they are in our field now. We have medical problems, we have family problems, we have legal problems – we have all these problems and we need to find a way to see how we can solve them.

“The minister of tourism needs to pay attention to the fact that tourism is the biggest revenue earner and we have Bridgetown [filled] with vagrancy. Soon it will become a bigger issue for tourists to walk comfortable through Bridgetown without having 10 vagrants harass them before they get to the top of Broad Street. It is going to come a time when Bridgetown becomes so overcrowded with vagrants; we need to see what ideas we can come up with so that we can all combat vagrancy.

Urgency to get out

“The more we leave it alone the more these guys become advanced in vagrancy and it is harder to get them out. People want to get out when they are two months or three months on the street, but when they are going three or four years on the street it is very hard to get them off. We are trying to combat homelessness from a preventative perspective, rather than combating it when someone is five years into vagrancy or 20 into homelessness,” he said.

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