Demming: Caring for our helpless; to ignore them is to risk your humanity

There’s a human who walks in small tight circles on the pavement in Champs Fleurs in front of a successful company. His fingers on one hand are visibly rotting, his smell is putrid, he made me think of the personification of the ‘creature from the black lagoon’.

I first saw him three months ago and he has continued on his daily pilgrimage in his own hell while commuters like me drive past, taxi people hustle their passengers and employees walk by to get to their stations.

Photo: A homeless man sleeps on the pavement.
(Copyright Business Insider)

I am told that the aforementioned company has reached out to the Police, the Ministry of Health, The Ministry of Social Services and even sought legal advice; but everyone is constrained by the laws—so unless he agrees, he cannot be removed against his wishes.

The conclusion is that, as a society, we shall observe his slow death on the pavement in the name of human rights. Little by little we shall preside over the decay of a human being until he dies in front of us and little by little the memory will fade.

What is unfortunate is that there are several of these cases on our streets and in our parks, though many of them are in the early stages of deterioration.

This particular case is a thorn in my side. We simply cannot throw our hands up in the air and do nothing. This case is a crisis which requires state intervention. Someone has to be bold enough to come up with a strategy to heal this human being. He ought not to be allowed to fester and die on the pavement.

In the larger context, the issue of vagrancy and homelessness has to be solved. It not only impacts the persons who are sleeping and defecating on the streets but it affects each witness to such abnormal behaviours. In the early stages we may be nauseated but little by little we turn away until we no longer notice; and that is the point at which we begin to lose our humanity.

Photo: A homeless person makes a sleeping place on the pavement.

It was American writer and novelist Pearl Buck (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1932), and recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature who wrote: “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilisation is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”

This case is yet another example of the extent to which our institutions are failing and it is also an opportunity for collaboration amongst our politicians to deal with this humanitarian issue.

The Parliament website points the researcher to the 2017 inquiry by the Joint Select Committee into the effectiveness of the State’s intervention programmes aimed at socially displaced persons. There is a well presented report with more than 20 recommendations for both short and long term action. The report even mandates that the specific recommendations be implemented in time frames between 3 and 24 months.

However the follow-up report is not available to track which of the recommendations have been implemented. Again there is an implementation deficit. Had we conducted a comprehensive survey of the socially displaced in Trinidad and Tobago as recommended in the report, we would have been able to track each person as is done in other countries.

We continue to defer opportunities to prevent the deterioration which is occurring before our eyes. We know what to do because the reports which we have paid for provide solutions. Implementation is the problem.

Photo: A portrait of a homeless person.
(Copyright Lee Jeffries)

Will we continue as we are? Or will we begin to acknowledge that every human is worthy of our efforts to care for them and put the systems and procedures in place to make a difference?

It is time to change and we must collectively make the change.