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Homeless seek shelter

The trinidad Guardian / Two days after the Port-of-Spain City Corporation was given the green light to evict homeless people who were using Tamarind Square as a makeshift homeless shelter, they have begun to return to the venue.

When a news team from the T&T Guardian visited the area in down-town Port-of-Spain yesterday morning, all the temporary residents had removed their belongings as the square was being cleaned by the corporation’s workers. However, after the workers left several of the homeless were seen re-entering.

Hugh Bernard, who filed the lawsuit against corporation, was amongst the first to return and pitch his camping tent in the middle of the square.

Bernard refused to be interviewed, however, as he said he had been inundated with requests since reports of his lawsuit were published earlier this week.

“Reporters have been coming to speak to me and I have been giving out information but I got nothing in return. With the current situation, I am just thinking about myself. I deserve some privacy,” Bernard said as he crawled back into his tent.

One woman, who asked to remain unidentified, said she did not sleep in the square but merely used the area to hang laundry on trees in the square.

There are now two such homeless cases in the city, as there were also attempts yesterday to evict former national boxer Wendell Joseph and his wife Erica from a makeshift tent they have been living in at the Queen’s Park Savannah for the past month. In both cases, however, the state is unable to properly cater their specific needs. (See story below)

In the case of Tamarind Square, in an interview earlier this week Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez said the corporation’s executive still had to deliberate on the issue, but would be moving to clear the area of the homeless and reopen it to the public. The T&T Guardian attempted to contact Martinez for an update of the situation yesterday, but several calls to his cellphone went straight to voice-mail and he did not return calls.

Delivering a 19-page judgement on Monday, Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell dismissed Bernard’s lawsuit, in which he claimed his constitutional rights were infringed when the corporation constructed a perimeter fence and gates at the public square almost two years ago. Donaldson-Honeywell said Bernard’s claim failed as he could not produce evidence that the corporation fenced the property and locked four out of five gates in a bid to bar him and other homeless persons access.

In addition to ruling that the homeless did not have a right to be accommodated at the location, Donaldson-Honeywell ordered Bernard to pay the corporation’s legal costs for defending his lawsuit. The corporation’s legal team will now send Bernard’s lawyers, who represented him pro bono, the bill for their services. The two parties would then have to agree on the invoice.

In the absence of an agreement the issue will have to be resolved by a High Court Judge or Registrar, before the corporation can seek to enforce the costs order on Bernard. Considering that Bernard is homeless and has no known valuable assets, it is unlikely the corporation will be able to recoup the money.

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