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Squatters claim right to shelter


Squatters claim right to shelter

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SHEER LAWLAWNESS or a mere act of desperation? Regardless of how the issue of squatting is viewed, illegal occupants insist they have a human right to shelter.

This sentiment echoed through several squatting communities in St Michael, where many low-income families have erected shanties and small wooden houses.

It was just before noon on Wednesday when the SUNDAY SUN arrived in Howells Cross Road, one of the areas that have had been vastly transformed from mere trees and overgrown bush into a settlement of sorts.

On speaking with some residents, it appeared that the gloomy reality of poverty had led to the erection of their homes of various hues from lilac to deep red.

Fire victim Patricia Walrond emerged from her wooden yellow and green house to share her experience.

The 65-year-old said when a fire ravaged her previously rented Haggatt Hall residence in 2005 she made frequent appeals to constituency representatives for help, but to no avail.

She said attempts to acquire a Government unit also failed.

“I went NHC, National Housing, I went all over. When you go to talk to the people, the first thing they tell you is ‘We don’t have no land available,” recalled the resident of seven years.

Walrond slapped her hands together before adding: “I get tired with that.”

The casually dressed woman explained that it took years of hardship to rebuild her life after almost becoming homeless.

“I accumulate money. I buy a two board, a three board, a one window – and you know how much that cost? The window alone was $529 and the roof was over $5 000,” she said, noting that even now her salary was barely enough to purchase something to eat. 

Sitting under a palm tree shaded bench further up the path was a man who said he had been squatting for years.

“I hate the word squatters but that’s the word people like to use. At the end of the day, to me when you look in other countries you see people living in garbage, there’s filth all over the place, animals, wild dogs, pigs all kind of thing but you’re not seeing that here.”

“I went to the NHC when I was 17 years old and filled out an application and I will turn 39 Saturday. You could imagine that I ain’t get no forward from them.”

The team then headed north to talk to residents in The Belle, classified as a Zone 1 area.

“You here to talk to squatters? Your camera don’t have enough film!” a resident bellowed to the cameraman.

Immediately noticeable were fresh coats of paint covering the notices that the Town and Country Planning had plastered on houses. 

Some of these residents said they, too, were faced with a choice between homelessness and illegal residency.

For Curtis McCollin, it was the destruction of his parents’ home that left him impoverished and dislocated.

The 49-year-old man, who lives in a small white shack with his girlfriend, admitted that his current living arrangements were a result of sacrifice.

“Sometimes you don’t eat. Sometimes you don’t drink. These are the kinds of things you do to have a place to live.”

McCollin, a squatter of 35 years, pointed out that there was “a lot of waste land that the Government ain’t doing nothing with” and therefore, did not predict an end to illegal occupation of land islandwide.

In Waterford, a small group of close-knit squatters assembled around the neighbourhood shop located along a rocky pathway.

The residents said they felt abandoned by the Government, especially their constituency representative, as they were without light, water and septic tanks.

Sitting on a bench at the side of the shop, Adrian Taitt, a builder, recalled money becoming “tight” during the recession.

He said it was hard to find work and he ended up owing his former landlord about $1 800.

He said he had considered alternative living arrangements but could not afford to rent.

The cries of an infant rang out from a nearby house mounted on stilts, under which there were two children’s bicycles. The occupants, who preferred anonymity, explained that the education of the children in the community was being impacted by their poor living conditions.

“We does got to walk from here to the front road with pan carts.

“Then people at school going wan’ know why only the children from down here does get school late. But all these things is the reason why [people] have to wake up and head to the pipe to get water,” they explained.

Asked if she believed that squatting was wrong, a mother of six said: “What other choice do we have? So if you don’t do that what you going do? Where part you going live? National Housing ain’t giving you no houses. So what are you to do? You can only do what you can do.”

Mark Small, a resident of Hall’s Land, said he was homeless for several years following the passing of his aunt who rented a house in the Pine, St Michael.

After being dependent on the Clyde Gollop Shelter for the homeless, the 50-year-old said he grew frustrated and wanted to “turn his own key”. 

“The Government got a lot of waste buildings all over Barbados, like schools that close, that people could be occupying,” he said.

After being homeless for four years, 58-year-old McDonald Branch chose squatting over homelessness.

“I [was in] the country sleeping in the bush. So I [built my place] instead of sitting down on the block and not doing anything,” he said, noting that he now makes a living selling artwork.

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