TRINIDAD – Homeless man loses court battle to sleep in city square
PORT OF SPAIN – A homeless man has lost in his novel legal bid to block the Port of Spain City Corporation from locking him and other homeless people out of Tamarind Square in the capital at night.
In a 28-page judgment delivered in the Port of Spain High Court, Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell refused Hugh Bernard permission to pursue his judicial review claim against the corporation for implementing the measure without providing alternative facilities.
While Donaldson-Honeywell praised Bernard for raising awareness of the plight of homeless people in the twin-island republic, she said the case could not proceed as Bernard’s lawyers should have pursued a constitutional motion instead. She said his claims focused more on how the decision affected his constitutional rights to life and liberty as opposed to the legality of the decision.
“Street dwelling is a concern not only for those unfortunate persons who, whether by choice or having suffered dire life experiences, seek to stake a claim to entitlement to reside in public places but also presents a threat to other members of the public whose freedom of movement, safety and enjoyment of public places may be adversely affected by such occupation,” Donaldson-Honeywell said.
Bernard filed the claim earlier this year after the corporation erected fences along the perimeter of the park in East Port-of-Spain and placed padlocks on its gates. He claimed that he has been homeless since being deported from the United States in 1993 and has been living on the streets as the nearby Centre for the Socially Displaced at Riverside car park is unfit for human habitation.
In his claim, Bernard’s attorneys also alleged that under the Municipal Corporations Act, the corporation was not allowed to limit access to public parks without enacting by-laws, which was not done in this case. In addition to seeking to have the corporation reverse its decision, Bernard was also asking the court to order the corporation to construct temporary facilities at the location to accommodate homeless people.
Donaldson-Honeywell disagreed as she said that the corporation had wide discretion to manage the facility and did not have the duty to provide facilities for homeless people.
As part of her judgment, Donaldson-Honeywell called upon the Government and citizens to partner with each other to address the issue of homelessness.