NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The government is hoping to have Hurricane Dorian shelters in New Providence closed before the end of the Christmas season, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell revealed yesterday.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency’s most recent report, there were just over 700 shelterees still residing on two sites in New Providence: the Kendal GL Isaacs Gymnasium and three tents, and the Bahamas Academy Gymnasium.
“The government continues to move to ensure that while citizens are still in the shelters that they get the best possible treatment that we can give,” Campbell told Eyewitness News Online in the foyer of Parliament.
“We are simultaneously working towards their transition back to their place of origins.
“So some work is being done in Grand Bahama, space has been identified, some transitional homes, family center is going to be put in place.
Campbell continued: “At the same time, we are asking persons to identify if there is someplace else that they could be that would make them more comfortable and how we can help them to transition.
“Our ultimate goal and objective is to have the shelters closed and people properly transitioned.
“You would appreciate that the spaces that are being used as shelters are needed for other functions and activities, and so the sooner we are able to properly transition persons, and we are hoping that this could be done before the festive season.”
The Category 5 storm ravaged portions of Abaco and Grand Bahama leaving hundreds displaced – many of whom resided in shantytown communities in Abaco.
Following the storm, the government issued a cease order with immediate effect for The Mudd, The Peas, Sandbanks and The Farm in order to prevent anyone from rebuilding in those communities.
As time languishes on for those staying in shelters, some evacuees at the Kendal G L Issacs Gymnasium told Eyewitness News Online they were making their own plans to leave.
One Bahamian shelteree, who asked not to be named, said the looming uncertainty is a central concern among people living in the shelter.
“Ain’t nothing different,” she said outside the gym on Tuesday.
She explained she was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, and was concerned about the status of a spousal permit application for her husband, who is also Haitian.
The couple had submitted the application before the monster storm hit September 1-3, she said.
“Every day we wake up and it’s always the same thing.
“We get up, bathe, sit down and eat the food they give you. If you don’t like the food you have to buy, if you have the money.
“Every day we wake up it’s like different people gone. People are moving out because they can’t take it here.
“You have to have family somewhere to help you if you want do certain things. If you have family it’ll be easier.
“Every day you wake up and try to figure out the next step.”
Asked if she is hopeful that she will be able to move back to Abaco soon, she said she doesn’t know.
Aaliyah Jean-Baptist, an 11-year-old who lives inside the gym, said she and her family are taking it one day at a time.
“When I here, I feel happy because we have a lot of people who come and bring stuff,” said Aaliyah.
“But sometimes I feel sad because it will never feel like home.”
Aaliyah said if she does not go to school, she usually sits around all day waiting for the time to pass.
This is the routine for many staying at the shelter, Eyewitness News Online was told.
On Tuesday, many people could be seen sitting in the grassy and shady areas around shelter.
The government has maintained no “illegals” will be allowed in the Family Relief Centres planned for both islands.
In a recent risk assessment, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) underscored the number of undocumented Haitians displaced in government shelters is low.
Yesterday, Campbell said his ministry did not have data on how many undocumented migrants currently live in shelters.
“Truth be told, Social Services objectives, priority, would be those humanitarians ones, so we weren’t concerned about identifying nationality, legal status,” he said.
“Our satisfaction is, here is a person or a group of persons who are victims of a catastrophic storm and we want to assist them as best we can.
“So I’m honestly not aware of any numbers of who are legal who are illegal, who are Bahamian because we’ve done all that we could while they are in the shelter to treat everyone equally.”
Campbell said his ministry has had to significantly ramp up its efforts in the aftermath of the storm.
“I usually joke that the Ministry of Social Services takes care of persons from the womb to the tomb…and everything in between,” he said.
“While we have had no choice but to focus on the catastrophic effects of Dorian, we still found ourselves continuing to cater to the persons that we would have been catering prior to in New Providence and all of the remaining Family Islands.
“So Dorian has ramped up the numbers but Dorian hasn’t necessarily changed the nature of the assistance that we give on a daily basis.”