The National Task Force Commission (NTFC) is hoping to work with the relevant stakeholders to have street dwellers documented and assessed by professionals with the aim of relocating them.
The NTFC is also seeking to provide street dwellers with counselling and therapy, and begin a process of rehabilitation. This exercise will commence by the last quarter of this year.
NTFC Chairman, retired Major General Joseph Singh, has said the National Committee has already begun work, and has been evaluating persons living on the streets to determine whether they are to be placed into shelters or drug rehabilitation centres.
“To the extent of persons living on the streets, whether they are street dwellers or mentally challenged… The National Committee did some pilot work with trained therapists and psychiatrists from the Ministry of (Public) Health, to determine what type of therapy and welfare management would be appropriate for the categories,” Singh told journalists on Friday.
According to Singh, it is a norm for persons to be taken off the streets, but they manage to find themselves back there in a matter of hours.
“Persons, in the past, have been removed from the pavement, taken to the night shelters, cleaned up, and given all that they need; but the next day they are back on the very pavements. If you visit some of those persons, you will see that that is there home,” he said.
He said there are some homeless persons who are intelligent, while there are others who prefer to be homeless even though they have families.
He said that now that the Hugo Chavez Centre in Berbice is up and running, the NTFC would be working closely with the Social Protection Ministry to see how many persons could be relocated there, along with the Phoenix House which deals particularly with drug rehabilitation.
Singh opined that homelessness is caused by many factors. “It has to do with the migration of a significant number of persons and people left here in the care of others. So the whole structure of the society needs to be retooled — restore that caring for the neighbour,” he said.
He said many relatives are willing to take their family members back into the home, but it was found that those persons refuse to stay in the home.
Meanwhile, regarding the project, Singh said the task force is currently getting together the relevant professionals to get the work started. He said a lot of pre- planning has to be done.
The project will be based in Georgetown, and it is hoped that the experiences of this pilot project would inform future projects elsewhere.
The issue of street dwellers has long plagued Guyana, and has received attention from many organisations over time. Earlier this year, the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) announced that it was collaborating with the Anglican Diocese of Guyana to provide assistance to street dwellers and vagrants. It is unclear what has become of that plan.
Vagrancy comes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Protection, though there is scope for collaboration with other agencies.
Back in 2015, then Minister of Social Protection (MSP), Volda Lawrence, had announced that the MSP would be working with a welfare committee to evaluate and possibly reintegrate the homeless into society.
The committee comprised persons from the Ministry of Social Protection, Public Health, Public Security, Agriculture, and the Mayor and City Council.
She had also acknowledged that there are those who use begging as a means to earn an income, even sending their children to beg. Saying that a programme has to be put in place to educate those individuals, Lawrence had pledged the Government’s support in tackling vagrancy.
It is not clear what fruit this collaboration has borne, since begging and destitution, including among juveniles, remain fairly prevalent in the city.