Police won’t arrest homeless for curfew breaches


A homeless woman sleeps alone on the pavement near the corner of Frederick Street and Independence Square, in Port of Spain on Sunday night. – Photo by Jeff Mayers

WITH no place to go as Trinidad and Tobago is under a state of emergency, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith is promising that the homeless will not be arrested for any breach of the 9 pm to 5 am curfew.

Earlier, Newsday asked Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez what would be done about homeless people caught on the city’s streets during the curfew. He said there was simply no place in the city to accommodate such people at this time. Martinez hoped police would be flexible when they encountered the homeless.

In response, Griffith said he would seek advice from Social Development Minister Donna Cox, “to look into how we will deal with that matter.

“Obviously they have nowhere to go, so definitely what I would not be doing is arresting them for breach of the curfew regulations. We have to find some other grounds, but definitely not arrest them for breaching covid regulation.”

For his part, Martinez said his hands were tied as he was awaiting the outcome of a mediation process and formal appeal of a matter involving a homeless man who had taken the Port of Spain Corporation to court for locking Tamrind Square.

“That mediation is taking place at this time, so my hands are tied unless that appeal is dropped.

“Although there is a legal aspect to it, there is also a humanitarian aspect to it and I am leaning on the side of humanitarian.

“What I am trying to do as mayor, because the homeless are on the streets of Port of Spain, is to find a humanitarian solution to the issue. The homeless are people too and I would like to see them taken care of.”

Homeless people take shelter on Harris Promenade, San Fernando, on Sunday night. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

Woodford Square and the Brian Lara Promenade have been cordoned off to prevent the homeless from gathering, and sanitisation of the city’s streets is being done daily between 4 am and 6 am.

However, Martinez said, because the Social Development Ministry has the authority to deal with the homeless, the corporation is somewhat restricted in what it can do.

He said the corporation and the ministry were working together to find a permanent solution.

In San Fernando, mayor Junia Regrello is resorting to moral suasion to get the homeless off the streets of the southern city.

Unlike Port of Spain, Regrello said a place has been identified to provide shelter for the homeless who have made their homes at Harris Promenade, under buildings around the High Court and in other public areas in the city centre.

He said corporation officials would continue to speak to those homeless who are lucid in an effort to encourage them to accept the offer of a place to stay. He foresees problems, however, with those who are mentally challenged.

In a phone interview with Newsday on Monday, Regrello said the council took a decision earlier in the day to cordon off Harris Street to Paradise Street, to prevent the homeless from entering and sleeping on those streets during the 9 pm to 5 am curfew.

He said barriers would be erected on Wednesday morning as the equipment needed to do so would be sourced on Tuesday.

“This will give us an opportunity to start a conversation with them and offer them an alternative solution in terms of where they can go.”

He said Shamrock Court and a shelter at King’s Wharf were available to provide the homeless with shelter, a meal, a bath and a change of clothing.

However, Regrello said regrettably, “We don’t have a solution for the homeless women as yet.”

Homeless people sleep in front of Royal Bank’s Independence Square branch in Port of Spain on Sunday night during the first night of a 9 pm to 5 am curfew implemented by government. – Jeff Mayers

On Sunday, a Venezuelan woman who claimed she was a doctor was reportedly living on the streets of San Fernando after being evicted by a local family she was staying with.

Regrello said he went in search of this immigrant on Monday but could not find her.

He said they are continuing to work with the Ministry of Social Development to assess the state of mind of the street dwellers, an exercise which was curtailed because of the pandemic.

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