Industrial Development Corporation building

DOWN IT COMES: The former Industrial Development Corporation building being demolished along Independence Square, Port of Spain, yesterday.

—Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

“FIX the homelessness first.”

Several citizens yesterday shared their angst over socially displaced people who continue to roam the streets of Trinidad and Tobago’s capital city Port of Spain.

They were reacting to yet another plan by the Government to revitalise the city announced yesterday by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a Spotlight session on Urban Development at the Hyatt Regency.

Homeless people continue to proliferate outside major commercial banks, and citizens complain that they beg, are dirty and expose their privates. They continue to petrify people since they are unkempt and practise poor hygiene during a time when the country is grappling with the onslaught of Covid-19.

Diego Martin newspaper vendor Marlene Mohan, who plies her trade at Independence Square, said: “They have all these grand plans for the city but what about the homeless? We have to see them 24/7. The city on the whole needs a lot of work. They have to start with the homeless.”

Mohan added: “They always begging. They want money. They are smelling dirty. A lot of excrement all over the place. Then they are lying down on the benches. Decent people can’t get somewhere to sit and eat. Sometimes they walking close to you. They not giving you your space. This is a time of Covid-19. People are doing their best to keep themselves clean, yet you are forced to interact with the homeless.”

Homeless bandits

Chiming in, fellow newspaper vendor Everton “Fatboy” Samuel said: “I agree they should do something about the vagrants. How can you invite tourists to a place and vagrants are the biggest eyesore?”

Samuel, who lives in Laventille, said some of them are pretending to be vagrants “but they are bandits. They are scoping you out in the day. And coming back to rob you at night. One of them tried to rob me but I made out his face so he ran off.”

Moving to the plan to give Despers a home in the city, he said: “I don’t mind what they are doing with Despers. The music is good. But they should do the same for the other bands. Like All Stars. I used to play with the late Jit Samaroo in Renegades. Build theatres for all the steelbands. It would attract tourists year round. It would employ pan men, tuners and arrangers year round. Get serious about our pan music.”

Random checks with vendors on the Brian Lara Promenade revealed they, too, felt the homelessness situation should be resolved permanently.

Soft drink vendor Kevin George said: “They should definitely do something about the homeless. Not just the homeless. A large number of people frequent the city to beg, and hustle. Help people find small jobs. They should do more to beautify the city. Put some more statues and berms. Create nice places for people to enjoy the city’s ambience.”

IDC building being demolished

Meanwhile, onlookers said the upgrade has started with the demolition of the former Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) building next to Chee Mooke Bakery on Independence Square.

A city source said there are plans for the area behind the Centre For the Socially Displaced People (CSDP) at Piccadilly Street. “I heard they are going to build a plaza. They have asked Chee Mooke to move.”

When contacted, Chee Mooke’s general manager Stokely Phillip confirmed, “They have started mashing down the IDC building. So it seems to be a serious endeavour. The building next door is a derelict building. I’m excited to see what they will put there. Most of the buildings have asbestos. We are right next door.”

Sharing his sentiments, Phillip said: “It’s long overdue. I remember the former (late) prime minister Patrick Manning had called us to a meeting. They started talking about urban renewal. But it seemed like one of those Arab countries modus operandi.

“They wanted to start from scratch. It was rejected by the people of Port of Spain. I don’t know if this new upgrade will be sustained. But the city desperately needs renewal. I am looking forward to it. They came and took some pictures. Nobody has done a total run-down. We don’t have timelines for complete demolition. Port of Spain deserves renewal.”

While Phillip paid kudos to Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds for a swimming pool at Sogren Trace, he said the environs needs upliftment.

Phillip also praised Despers for making an effort to “gentrify Nelson and George Streets”.

Chee Mooke on the move

Asked if Chee Mooke bakery would be remaining in the city, Phillip said: “We need to get out of town. We are occupying an old Spanish style colonial building. We rammed a bakery into it. We will have to get out and decide how we will re-present our bakery. It’s a tough decision. We are a heritage site. An historical landmark.”

Phillip added: “Would it be the same thing we have been doing for all these years? Probably not. Maybe, an industrial space, or buy some land somewhere.”

On the way forward, Phillip said: “They are thinking about renewal because it’s cramped. As the city moves, some places are being renewed. Some places are left behind. We have to find out why those places are being left behind?

“It’s a big job which calls for people to come together. We have to determine how we want the city to represent us. We have to ascertain how we want people to evaluate us.”

On the homelessness issue, Phillip added: “When you become civilised, some people can’t keep up. Trinidad could probably do better than Los Angeles or Berlin. Homelessness has to be solved somehow.”

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