Homeless, vulnerable have mixed feelings on Coronavirus pandemic

Homeless, vulnerable have mixed feelings on Coronavirus pandemic
Henry Sweeting, 47, has been homeless for over a decade and said he often sleeps in an abandoned car or building.

Great Commission Ministries seeking assistance to respond to growing need, and homeless problem

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Some of the homeless and panhandlers, who are among the most vulnerable of dwellers in The Bahamas, expressed mixed feelings yesterday about their risk of exposure to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Henry Sweeting, 47, a former janitor, said after he lost his job and wife, he fell on hard times.

He turned to drugs and found himself on the streets, where he has remained for over a decade.

He said he does not believe the Coronavirus is real, but a government conspiracy.

“I am going through substance abuse; drowning stress,” he said, leaning against an empty trailer as he spoke.

“I am a homeless person. My woman was an adulterous. The Bahamian public has helped me out well with clothes, food and money handouts.

“I’ve been through the ropes. The Coronavirus, I believe in some kind of government-fabricated thing. I don’t believe it is real.

“As a less fortunate, homeless person, I believe in God and I don’t know if this would be important to you, but these things — I don’t know…”

He trailed off, losing the thought, before saying he is a father of two, and a grandfather, though he rarely sees his family.

When asked where he planned to sleep, Sweeting said in an abandoned car or an abandoned building “in any area I can find peace and restitution”.

Sweeting admitted that he had a stint in prison for stealing a bicycle, but he has tried to better his life and remain hopeful.

“I still have hope and I have not given up hope,” he said.

After sharing his troubled story, Sweeting posed and smiled, asking that the photographer capture his expression.

Dale Smith, 50, who was walking along Thompson Boulevard barefoot, though he held a pair of aged black slippers in his hand, said he had not heard of the virus, which causes COVID-19.

He stopped at the Shell gas station and filled a McDonalds cup with water from a dispenser.

His grey t-shirt was badly soiled and appeared black.

His pants were oversized and rolled up around his ankles to avoid dragging on the ground.

Despite his destitute appearance, Smith appeared content.

“I’m going for a ‘lil’ walk,” he said when asked why he was walking barefoot.

He continued: “I used to work for a wholesale place with Mr. Bowe in a supermarket.

“I’m not working right now.”

When asked if he has ever slept on the street, Smith said: “I does be home sleeping.”

He explained he often stays with his sister, niece and nephew at their home in South Beach.

He said: “Sometimes I give them something when I make something.”

Asked if he was aware of the threat the virus poses, Smith responded: “Uh uh.”

Even after a brief explanation about the spread and deaths recorded worldwide, Smith said he was not afraid.

“I never get into it.”

As he left, Smith said with a smile: “I am taking a stroll. I’m going to play games home; maybe checkers.”

Sitting under a tree in the grass off West Bay Street, Patricia Mae-Colebrooke, said she has been homeless since January.

She said she was admitted to Sandilands for three years because she struggled with a disorder, though she was unable to name the condition.

As she spoke with Eyewitness News, she sat on top of a plastic container, one of her few possessions, which contained a few items of clothing; a folded towel, several sheets and a drab blanket.

She said she gets paid to pick up garbage in the area.

“I need somewhere to stay from off the street,” she said.

When asked what she was doing to protect herself from COVID-19, Mae-Colebrooke said: “The virus was here, but it done gone. They say it done gone.”

It was pointed out there were four confirmed cases of the virus in The Bahamas, a strict mandatory curfew and other measures to contain its spread.

“I am worried because I have no place to stay,” she said, pointing to the place where she seeks shelter a night — a small wooden stand that bore the sign ‘coconut water’.

“After I got fired, I didn’t have any place to stay, so I was laying my head anywhere.

“Family is not helping me. I have children. My children don’t have no placed to be either, though some is work. But, they don’t want to help me because they’re married and they have children.”

Her eldest daughter is 35, she claimed.

Mae-Colebrooke said she has visited shelters for food and clothing, and slept in some of them at times.

However, she said she found it difficult to walk there.

In a separate interview with Eyewitness News, Bishop Walter Hanchell of Great Commission Ministries (GCM), a non-profit organization that provides food and shelter to the disenfranchised and poor, said GCM has sheltered around 30 people who were living on the streets, but needs help in order to assist the estimated 200 to 250 homeless in New Providence.

“We are concerned about the level of persons who have nowhere to live; the amount of homeless persons on the streets,” he said.

“Homeless persons on the streets, they are not getting any food.

“Not only are they not getting fed, they don’t have a place to lay their heads and during this curfew, I am wondering what is happening. I have not heard about any of them being arrested. I don’t know if the police are just leaving them along, but those persons in that situation with all of the street people and homeless persons needs to be addressed.

Bishop Walter Hanchell.

He added: “We must find a way to reach out to those persons. Of course, the number one responsibility comes from the government, but also other agencies are responsible; the private sector, the church — everyone can play a role in ministering to those persons who are on the streets homeless, who roam our streets every single day… I am asking persons who have concerns and compassions; rather than just complaining about the situation do something about it.”

He said the large numbers — over 400 people per day — visit GCM, which continues to practice social distancing measures, even as its workers seek to serve the poor.