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Issues of homelessness can only be resolved if all contributing factors are addressed through a comprehensive response.

These factors could include the breakdown in traditional mechanisms of care after something has occurred at the household level; difficult economic circumstances; Alzheimer’s, particularly for older people; other mental health issues, and sometimes drugs.

And, Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Kirk Humphrey, has emphasised the importance of understanding the issues and bringing a resolution to the situation.

“It is never going to be one agency. It has to be a multi-agency response that involves the family. That is the approach that we are going to take…,” he said.

Speaking during a tour of the Soroptimst Senior Citizens’ Village recently, Mr. Humphrey said Government needed to be able to expand existing facilities to allow people to stay for at least 24 hours.

He also called for supporting legislation to get people off the streets and “save them from themselves”. “We need to have a comprehensive response,” he stressed.

Mr. Humphrey explained that in cases where the reason for homelessness was simply an economic issue and persons were just “passing through poverty”, then the response should be as temporary as possible.

“We would either have to give some financial support as we have done through the Household Mitigation Unit, as we do through the Welfare [Department],” he said.

He added that if there were other issues contributing to the homelessness such as Alzheimer’s, mental health or drug abuse, then the situation would be handled differently.

“It is very difficult to handle a situation of homelessness that we consider to be voluntary.  In its definition, voluntary homelessness is where a person has a home or a house that they can return to, but for whatever reason they choose not to return to that house.

“And those are difficult because it often means that it is not a housing problem but it is a problem associated with other issues,” he outlined.

He stressed that the Ministry’s role was to understand what those issues were and bring a resolution to the situation. Mr. Humphrey said when people came to the social services sector, it was because they were almost at the end of the line.

“By the time you get to a point where you are homeless, you must have gone through so many systems that must have either let you down, or somebody didn’t come into contact with you in some way to allow you to elevate your circumstances, or it could be dealing with a troubling mental health issue as well,” he lamented.

Making reference to an issue involving a couple highlighted in a section of the press recently, Mr. Humphrey said his Ministry was actively dealing with the situation.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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