Four students of Trinidad and Tobago's Hugh Wooding Law School are attempting to break the stigma associated with homelessness in Caribbean societies.
The student attorneys, Anessa Chow (Guayana), Ashely Roopchansingh, Darius Emrith and Reisa Singh (Trinidad and Tobago), recognise that the homeless and other socially displaced persons are often the victims of scorn, fear and even hatred.
According to the students:
In our daily lives we often pass these persons on the streets without a second glance or thought of whether they ate, if they had a shirt on their backs or shoes on their feet, or even shelter if it rained.
The group partnered with 141 Foundations, a not-for-profit organisation which seeks to provide basic necessities for the homeless population in one of Trinidad's southern cities, San Fernando.
The project was undertaken as part of the law school's Human Rights Law Clinic and consisted of various elements, such as visiting the homeless for several weeks during October and November 2015; conducting a clothing and toiletries donation drive at the Hugh Wooding Law School; interviewing homeless people and creating a social media photo essay campaign to help change the stigma surrounding the homeless; creating a photo-book to memorialise their encounters; and interviewing members of 141 Foundations to inspire others to become involved in such ventures.
61 years of age
I grew up in San Fernando and am one of 10 siblings; 8 boys and 2 girls. I thought I had “family” and could always count on “family” but people only act like your family and friends to your face. They smile with you, eat with you, but you never know how they truly feel when they turn their backs. When they turn their backs, they only “bad talk” you. This was my “family” and I was fed up and had enough with how my so called family treated me. So I decided to leave home and live on the streets. I was arrested for loitering but when I was released I returned to the streets of San Fernando. Being on the streets was better than being “home”. I feel free on the streets. I AM FREE, free from a family who laughed and talked about me behind my back. I would never go back to that life, that ‘family’. I was tired of feeling unwanted and unappreciated and being on the streets away from my family is better than the betrayal I felt from them. Life on the streets is simple and I like simple. I don’t have to worry about no one and nobody tells me what to do. It is the freedom I enjoy and the street is freedom. I am happy out here. I love playing moral, hopscotch and I love telling jokes as well. What are the three sweetest things in the world? – The day a baby is born; nothing sweeter than a new born baby, sweet sixteen; the sweetest age to be and home sweet home; no place sweeter.
66 years of age
To escape a life of abuse, I found myself on the streets at age 13. I thought this was a good decision. I thought the streets would give me a better life, a life free from the difficult one I once knew. I was wrong. On the streets at such a young age I had all the responsibilities on my shoulders and all the worries of life. Every day I had to worry about whether anyone would take advantage of me or when I closed my eye at night, whether I would even wake up the next morning. I had to take care of myself from a very young age. It was not easy. Things just kept getting harder and harder with age. I met a friend out here and she tried to get me a house through HDC but that did not work out. I even went to a home for the aged but it was for both men and women and I felt very uncomfortable about this. Even when I had no place to go to and could only live and sleep on the streets, the police still arrested me for loitering. When they let me go, I had to go right back on the streets because I have nowhere else to go. This is the only life I know. I feel as though things were never good and they would never be good. I AM FED UP OF THIS LIFE. I am too old for this life. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. I feel helpless at this point in my life and I am begging for some help. PLEASE HELP ME. I don’t know what to do again. Where to go? HELP ME PLEASE. Some people out here are nice but the thing is, I don’t understand how someone can be nice to me but they are NEVER willing to help me in any way. Then there are those who are not nice at all. I would just leave those people there. It doesn’t make sense telling them anything. I would let the All Mighty deal with them. This place itself is not nice at all to be living on the streets. Gunmen are walking the streets of Trinidad freely. I have to worry each night I go to sleep. I am scared out here because I am an old lady. I can’t do anything when those gunmen come for me. I don’t know what else to do. I want to get out of this life.
IDENTITY KEPT ANONYMOUS
23 years of age
I am 23 years old and I’ve been homeless for a couple months now. I was kicked out of my home when my parents discovered I did not believe in God. They found my beliefs were unacceptable and so there was no place for me under their roof so long as I held my belief that God does not exist. Since then, neither my parents nor my brother or sister ever tried to contact me. I won’t contact them either. I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY TO THEM. I live in the forest in Tacarigua now. I feel safe there but it’s really difficult to live there around this time of the year when it’s rainy. I use my bike to get around. I even ride my bike most Sundays from Tacarigua to here (Harris Promenade in San Fernando). I make do. It’s also hard for me to get a job since I never finished my educational programme because of family problems. I am still trying though. Even though I’m on my own, I have NO family and NO place to call home, I rather be here, on the streets, than with a family who have NEVER accepted me for who I am and who WOULD NEVER accept me. I do not want to have to face constant judgments each and every day. If I go back, they would never let me be; they would constantly be on my case and try to change my beliefs. This is just my belief and this is who I am and I won’t go back to a place where I’m not accepted. My only wish is that one day I would be able to afford a small apartment for myself to call home, somewhere nice you know?
35 years of age
I grew up with my grandparents because my parents died when I was very young. I have one brother and one sister, but it’s been years since I spoke to any of them. My grandparents died a while after and so I started living on the streets at the age of 11. I never had an education but this did not stop me. I was employed as an estate worker and attended to plants there. However, I had to leave this job because I got a garbage truck injury which affected my back. My friend helped me find a shelter to stay in called Ozonium Night Shelter. It’s a night shelter for older persons who don’t have a place to go. I like it there. I may not be physically well but with each new day I am coping. I am pulling through with my problems. Life is not so bad. It’s okay for now and I’m making it work. People out here aren’t nice at all though. They look at me a certain way and whisper as they pass by. Some say hello, some just watch me and laugh. I know they judge me but I always ignore them. They don’t affect me. I don’t let them affect me. Never once did I say anything to them. If I had a chance to tell any of them who whisper behind my back anything, I WOULD NOT SAY ANYTHING. I have nothing to say to them. I would leave them because I just want everything to be good.
62 years of age
I have been on the streets for a long time now. I stayed with a friend for a while but we had an argument and so I had to leave. I have nowhere to go now. I don’t really have any family or friends that I would turn to for help. I regret the argument with my friend. I wish I could talk to her but I can’t and there’s nothing I could do now. Life on the streets has its ups and downs. There are good days but then there are bad days and the bad days are really rough and tough. A bad day is when it rains and I get wet and cold because I don’t have a place to shelter from the rain. It’s also a bad day when I have no food and I don’t have any means of getting food for myself. It’s bad sometimes, really really bad and nobody helps. SOME PEOPLE OUT HERE ARE NOT NICE. Sometimes, they are rough with me and whenever people treat me badly, I let them know. I give them a piece of my mind. I do not hesitate to tell them things when they treat me badly. Who do they think they are? I AM A HUMAN BEING! I don’t deserve to be treated badly. I don’t harass anybody. I don’t do anything for people to treat me badly just like that. So when people are not nice to me, I give them a piece of my mind. I will not stay quiet and allow people to treat me however they want. I DESERVE RESPECT TOO because I am a human being just like them. I do not deserve to be treated badly. No man!
The photo essay series concluded on a positive note with ANTHONY DUNCAN
57 years of age
I have been on the streets for over 26 years. I slept at the corner of KFC, used to drink rum and I cried a lot. I got into drugs at an early age and that’s where I made my biggest mistake as I was arrested for it and spent 5 years in jail. The street life was not a good one and I knew I had to do something about it. My sister who lives abroad saw me one day on the streets after I got out of jail and immediately broke down in tears. She sat me down and we had a long talk. After that, I made the decision to change my life. That’s when I started going to church. This was the first step towards my new life, even though still on the streets. I knew despite my circumstance I had to turn things around. Shortly after I met the love of my life and she became my wife. I then began taking goods from vendors on the street and assisted them in selling the goods for a commission.Now, I am proud to say I have a beautiful 3 year old daughter and recently got a government funded house for me and my family to stay in. I have a family now and family is everything. My only wish is for a happy life for my daughter. I lived my life, now it’s time for her to live hers. I’ve learnt, and I want my daughter to learn that you always have a choice in your life. It is up to you to change your life if you don’t like it. My advice to children as obvious as it sounds is ‘DON’T DO DRUGS. It really affects your life more than you can imagine.
Contemporaneous with the photo essays, the group also released interviews with members of the 141 Foundations executive team about working with the homeless in Trinidad and Tobago.
Finally, the students produced a report summarising their findings:
The four friends were overwhelmed by their peers’ response to the project, as well as by the public's reaction to the social media campaign — they hope that similar initiatives will change the mindset as it relates to other marginalised or neglected groups in the country.