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Apr 22, 2008

City Council outlines initiative to deal with homeless

Story PictureIt is a phenomenon that affects almost every major city on the planet, rich and poor, albeit to different degrees. Today the Belize City Council unveiled its plans to deal with the problem of homelessness. News Five’s Marion Ali reports.

Marion Ali, Reporting
If you’ve travelled on one of the main arteries of downtown Belize City, you can’t help but notice the work that is being done to eventually uplift the area.

But part of that revitalisation encompasses more than just street and drains. And that is why this afternoon representatives of the Belize City Council and other agencies sat down to chart a plan that will effectively address that chronic issue.

Wayne Usher, Councillor, Belize City
“We’ve been challenged with the mentally ill people on the streets, the homeless, the indigents, drug addicts, harbouring in the downtown area as well and we do not see them as part of this upliftment. So what we are doing in this meeting is trying to find a humane way of dealing with it and not have them in the downtown area once this upliftment project comes to fruition. To do that, there must be alternatives.”

Those alternatives will be drafted up in a month’s time after the various agencies conduct surveys to chart the way forward. But so far, there is already a plan to accommodate the homeless.

Wayne Usher
“We have this parcel of land that the Mental Health Association has leased from the council and that’s away from the downtown area. We are hoping to get sponsorship to put a twenty by thirty or that size building on it and it would serve as a drop in centre at the centre, if you may, for those who congregate in the downtown area like sitting in the park etcetera—in Battlefield Park—or just hanging out at the street corners and impeding the flow of traffic and sometimes making a nuisance of themselves downtown and …”

Marion Ali
“But it’s not everybody that’s homeless that has a mental challenge.”

Wayne Usher
“That is correct and that’s what they would identify through the other service areas that we have.”

According to Usher, the drop in centre will offer food, recreation and bathroom facilities. But while it will take care of the day time problem, Usher says the homeless shelters will have to pick up the slack for the night time shift. And a major part of that responsibility rests squarely on the Department of Human Services. But with help it’s an achievable initiative says Director, Ava Pennil.

Ava Pennil, Director, Department of Human Services
“We have asked, have petitioned through government to get some assistance with an extra social worker and other resources to help with the management of the cases. It’s not so much just to feed them and to clothe them, that is just throwing things at people, but rather to look at each person and have a manager responsible for that person’s life. So we have requested in the budget for a staff member, a couple staff members from Belize City to focus primarily on persons that are living on the street or on the street during the day. So if we get that I believe it can help. I don’t want to sell any dreams, I don’t believe in selling dreams but I think we can—step by step—we can make a move towards. I don’t believe in pulling people off the street, locking them up, because they’re human beings just like us so we have to do it in a dignified way.”

And that dignified treatment will also extend to the mentally challenged. It will be a costly effort and will require enhanced monitoring, but Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Eleanor Bennett feels in the end, it will be worth it to all concerned.

Eleanor Bennett, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
“Patients who are acutely ill will now have to be admitted on the general ward at the Karl Heusner and then the people on the streets—the community people—will have to be followed by nurses and attendants. So we’ll have like a case management type of system where these patients will be followed very, very closely, maybe twice a day. We’ll make sure that they get their medication, we’ll make sure that any complaints or anything they have we will be able to address it.”

Marion Ali
“That’s a very expensive initiative. Can you all sustain that?”

Eleanor Bennett
“It’s more costly to house the amount of people we had been housing at Rockview, in a hospital, giving them three meals, having access to staff, the electricity bills, all of those things. So I think the community’s treatment will be cheaper. It will be more cost effective because certainly, you will not have the overhead of a building. These people will be treated in their homes or in the shelter where they are staying.”

Meanwhile the new walk in centre will be located on Vernon Street. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Aside from the Council, the agencies involved in tackling the problem include the Ministry of Health, Mental Health Department, Social Services Department, Helpage, the Police, the National Drug Abuse Control Council and the Salvation Army. The plan is to implement the project by the end of June.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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