Barbados – Crisis of Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness Looms

Some of the country’s leading non-profit organisations are pleading with Government to dedicate more of the country’s resources to fight a looming crisis of poverty, hunger and homelessness overshadowed by the pandemic.

Director of the Caribbean Anti Human- Trafficking Foundation, Dr Olivia Smith declared that in the midst of a massive national vaccine drive to curb the spread of COVID-19, scores of women, some with babies and small children are starving.

“There are stories of women who can’t breastfeed their babies because they are hungry, there’s no food for the children who have to attend school and I am saying that while we are rightly focused on the COVID situation, equal focus has to be paid in this country on the food situation,” Dr Smith declared.

Those with no immigration status in the country are said to be particularly vulnerable but for others working less than three days a week on minimum wages, the situation isn’t much better.

To remedy the situation, she called for the transfer of some COVID-related funds to assemble a COVID-related food bank.

“This situation is so terrible and every day we seem to be focusing on giving vaccinations and nobody seems to be focusing on giving food. The basic needs of Barbadians and migrants alike have to be met. Food must be gotten to people because this is now a humanitarian crisis whether we want to face it or not. It’s not an impossible task,” the NGO Director added.

Director of the Caribbean Anti Human- Trafficking Foundation, Dr Olivia Smith

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Poverty Alleviation, Corey Lane warned that in addition to traditionally vulnerable groups, the country’s middle-class is “hanging on by the fingernail”.

In a very similar assessment of the situation, Programme Coordinator of the Barbados Red Cross, Danielle Toppin revealed that the institution’s website, telephone lines and social media pages were all inundated with an overwhelming number of requests over the last 18 months.

And, with the economy still squarely in the clutches of the pandemic, many of this country’s unemployed are seeking charitable assistance for the first time as their savings run dry.

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In addition to the rising number of cases, the severity of poverty cases, particularly among laid-off tourism workers, is also on the increase.

“I don’t know if we have a really clear idea of the scale of the socio-economic impact, but I know, through what we are seeing, there is a large number of families finding it difficult, near to impossible, to meet the needs of their families,” Toppin told Barbados TODAY.

“Given the nature of the pandemic, the thing at the forefront for the Government is responding to it as a public health crisis and rightfully so. However, based on what we are seeing with the social impact, there is a crisis there also,” she further explained.

The Red Cross spokeswoman further contended that although the majority of the unemployed may have exhausted all of their savings in the first five months of the pandemic, a new demographic is coming forward complaining that their personal resources have also now dried up.

“Even if the economy has re-opened, we are finding that many people are finding challenges catching back their footing from last year. If they are working, it’s no longer five days a week; maybe it’s just two days a week. In households with multiple adults, someone may have gone back to work, but they may be the only person in the household who would have gone back to work,” Toppin further explained.

Even with emergency funding from the International Federation of the Red Cross, the local charity’s resources are stretched thin.

The organisation’s popular ‘meals on wheels’ service that provides food to the elderly, shut-ins and other vulnerable people is under tremendous pressure as well.

President of the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness (BAEH), Kemar Saffrey, who is trustee of the Barbados National NGO

Network, declared that numerous people need help with rent and utilities to avoid displacement.

“I think we need to have a rent relief or a bill relief programme that could help persons and that can be incorporated into some of the money that the Government is already giving people,” Saffrey told Barbados TODAY.

“We are trying to help people as much as possible, we are trying to share resources as much as possible, but I find that the rent, the food and the bills are things that are recurring and affecting people drastically and I don’t feel like people are coming out of this situation any time soon.

“In fact, this situation is getting worse, and as charities, we are feeling the load when they come because they are complaining that welfare assistance is too slow,” the BAEH President added.

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