NASSAU, BAHAMAS – With just under 600 evacuees still living in shelters in New Providence, said Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell said yesterday the government will continue to deactivate sites “incrementally”.
Campbell told Eyewitness News Online last week the government is hoping to have all shelters closed by Christmas.
As of Sunday, there were 585 shelterees staying at two sites, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Of that number, 128 are at the Bahamas Academy shelter and 457 are at the Kendal G. L. Issacs Gymnasium (inclusive of three tents).
Following the Category 5 storm, which devastated Grand Bahama and Abaco in early September, thousands of people had to be evacuated from the islands.
Officials reported more than 2,000 people were being housed in shelters across New Providence in the immediate aftermath of the monster storm.
“The Ministry of Social Services, who are manning the shelters, we have an appreciation for all of the challenges that are involved in manning shelters this length of time after a disaster,” Campbell told reporters, following the Zonta Club’s violence against women and girls event in Parliament Square.
“We’re not accustomed to that, so we were never prepared for this.
“From day one we wanted to deactivate shelters as soon as practicably possible. Appreciate though that this is an inter-ministerial work.
Campbell continued: “So we are relying on the new ministry that has been formed, and the other ministries that existed previously to help us with the transitioning, to help with the cleanup in both Abaco and Grand Bahama, to help with transition homes, to help with bringing some sense of normalcy so that when those persons go back they have access to some basic services, otherwise there’s nothing to go back to.”
Campbell said he is satisfied that government services have returned to the storm impacted areas and cleanup efforts are “going well”.
He pointed to the government’s mobile homes and Family Relief Centre as initiatives being made to transition storm victims back to some form of normalcy.
“We are hoping that by the end of this year, before the holidays, that we can have all of those persons successfully transitioned back to an environment that they are familiar with, to an environment that they are comfortable with, and be in a position to help further cleanup and restore and bring back normalcy,” he added.
The number of evacuees in shelters declined significantly at different points over the past two months.
Authorities have attributed this decline to individuals returning home to storm ravaged areas or finding shelter elsewhere.
Last month, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), reported shelter populations saw a 38.6 percent drop in just one day – October 4 and 5.
The IOM report, dated October 5, noted the Kendal G. L. Issacs Gymnasium saw a 57.3 percent decrease to 431 evacuees since the previous day.
The government has since amalgamated shelterees on the current two sites.
The strongest storm to hit the northwest Bahamas destroyed two of the largest shantytowns on Abaco – The Mudd and the Peas.
The government issued a cease order with immediate effect for The Mudd, The Peas, Sandbanks and The Farm in order to prevent anyone from building or developing in those communities.
Asked yesterday what will happen to non-Bahamians living in New Providence shelters, Campbell said: “I know that the Ministry of Social Services has, is and will continue to be concerned about the humanitarian needs of the individuals, that is our focus as a ministry.
“There is talk of what other ministries with other responsibilities have to do. Of course, we will cooperate and collaborate but our focus from day one is to ensure that all humanitarian needs are met and extended to anyone who come and of course to those who are in our shelters.
“…Even our staff, who themselves are victims of the ravage of Dorian, are still on the front-line giving assistance. So that is another reason why the sooner we are able to deactivate those shelters, successfully transition those persons, our staff can now go attend to their personal lives and bring some normalcy to their lives.”
The social services minister noted that there is still uncertainty as to availability of housing to in order to successfully transition evacuees.
“We are also inviting persons who are in the shelters if they have family members or someplace else that they know they could be to inform us, advise as, and cause us to help them successfully transition,” he said.
As a part of those transition efforts, the Ministry of Social Services will assist with transportation back to the island, among other things.
“Persons who may find themselves needing to rent, we will assist with rental assistance,” Campbell added.
“We are partnering with the Red Cross and other organizations who are helping us with furniture.
“We have already initiated the uniform assistance for school aged children that were affected and of course the food assistance that is a given, that will continue.”
He added: “…millions have been set aside and if the need arise, the government of The Bahamas will have to find more to answer to the needs of our people.”