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Cutbacks hurting socially displaced

Published: 
Sunday, October 26, 2014

McIntyre Melvin, one of a twin, would have celebrated his 37th birthday this year. Unfortunately, that won’t happen because he committed suicide on October 20, 2014, at approximately 6.50 am, by jumping off one of the balconies of the CSDP (Centre for Socially Displaced People) building, often called Riverside Plaza. He landed on his head.

He had the emotional maturity of a 12-year old and was also mentally ill. As a result of his inability to think and respond in a linear manner, he became the CSDP bobolee of choice. He knew it and often complained to me about his ill-treatment by certain staff and some from “under the building” who roughed him up and took his money.

McIntyre desperately wanted to save some of his Public Assistance grant to get his own place but that was never going to happen. In addition to his mental problems, he was also addicted to marijuana and smoked cocaine from time to time.

I learnt this when I began chronicling the lives of some CSDP residents. He was biddable and childishly eager to please when treated kindly.

His suicide occurred three days after being ordered to go to the St Ann’s Hospital for re-evaluation. He was “tripping off.” McIntyre knew the procedure and how to get there, but this time was different.

He appeared lost, childlike, and unable to think. A staff member offered him the taxi fare but to no avail, and there was no one to accompany him.

Before the Ministry of the People and Social Development axed the budget for CSDP’s 180 odd residents, we are down to two meals, no milk, sugar, and other basic foodstuffs and supplies. Approximately two years ago, they discontinued the ambulance/van service which CSDP always kept on standby in front of the shelter.

It escorted the elderly, sick, mentally and physically challenged to clinics, and the users to rehab centres in Port-of-Spain and elsewhere.

The staff cannot be out-of-pocket from their monthly take-home pay of $1,950 even after 15 years’ service.

Wayne Chance’s Vision on Mission’s budget for 2015 was reinstated due to lobbying on his behalf. Why is no one standing up for the residents of the shelter?

CSDP is home, yes, home to many residents, and some will die here as they have nowhere else to go—even those with families who visit them. The disabled cannot work nor can they afford to live on their own with a miserable $1,500 per month! It’s why they live here!

People bring their relatives to CSDP for whom they are unable to care, while others dump those they don’t want. It’s the go-to place for psychiatric outpatients whose family don’t want them. Deportees, addicts, ex-convicts, the old and lonely, the marginalized and ostracized, the physically ill, the disabled and those “in transit,” all rub shoulders here.

The shelter’s surroundings of squalor is the classic sign of the Government’s “don’t-give-a-damn” policy. Out of sight is out of mind.

Residents and staff were so hopeful that a positive response would result from my letter about cutbacks hurting most vulnerable but it was not to be. The care of the needy isn’t a burning issue...

I understand, Madame Prime Minister, that when elections are in full swing, representatives from all political parties “remember” voters at CSDP. 

Clearly, your Government’s “serve the people, serve the people, serve the people” doesn’t apply to the needy supported by St Vincent de Paul, the Red Cross, and those others who serve since their budgets have all been axed to swell your 2015 election war chest.

I care but all I can do is write and talk about it but what about you, Madame Prime Minister. When are you going to remember the people, the people, the people? 

Catherine Hidalgo 

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