Published On: Thu, Apr 5th, 2018

Theft, violence and prostitution marred safety in Festival Village shelter

Bird's eye view of Festival Village

PHILIPSBURG – More than half of the people who lived sheltered in the Festival Village and the Little League Ball Park after Hurricane Irma have been moved to a transition-shelter in Sucker Garden, Minister Emil Lee (Public Health, social Development and Labor) said on Wednesday.

The so-called T-shelter is housed in the building that formerly was home to the Hypnotic brothel. Describing it as a small hotel the minister said that the place has been completely renovated.

“Of the 67 people that were at the Festival Village and the Little League Ball Park, 34 have been moved to this facility. Of this group, 23 are adults, among them 8 pensioners, and 11 are children.”

The situation at the Festival Village had become untenable, the minister said. “The situation was developing in a negative and undesirable manner. There was a lack of sufficient guidance from social workers There were issues with theft, drug use, violence and aggression and we even have reports of prostitution taking place.”

The ministry contracted the Dr. J. Foundation of psychologist Judith Arndell to deal with the shelter. Under this contract, the foundation provides social workers and also a psychologist.

“We are happy that people have been moved into a much better situation,” Minister Lee said. “They have their own bathrooms, a small fridge, a TV and a restaurant facility. People receive three meals per day.”

There are however rules in the shelter, the minister pointed out. “Some of the people did not make the transition to the T-shelter for lack of residency. There was also a mandatory drug test. We did not want anybody there with substance abuse problems or with violent and aggressive behavior.”

Minister Lee said that the shelter is not a housing solution. “This is a social transition facility. That is different from what the VROMI-ministry is doing with roof repair and emergency housing. This is a transition shelter where we help people rebuilding their lives. There is a lot of support for these people, like teaching crisis management skills, social skills, self-confidence skills and basic skills for finding a job. We’re helping them to find an apartment or to repair their houses.”

Minister Lee said that a newspaper report stating that the people in the shelter are paying rent is correct, but there is a twist to that story. “We do ask that the tenants contribute something to the facility. But all the money that is contributed is saved on behalf of the occupants. When they make the transition out of the shelter, they usually will need some capital for a deposit on an apartment or to buy furniture.”

Minister Lee also sees possibilities to hook up with the hospitality training program. “We’re talking with the people of that program to provide some services at the facility that will enable people to practice for instance housekeeping skills.”

A “personal passion” of the minister is the concept of a food-rescue program. “I believe there is a possibility for this. “Many supermarkets just discount items prior to their expiration date. We want to see if we can convince them to donate some of the food to the shelter, where we can tie it in with the hospitality education program.”

People who are currently not working will have options to provide services within the community, the minister said. Those who did not qualify for the transfer to the T-shelter will be brought in contact with organizations that will look into possible solutions for them.

Photo caption: Bird’s eye view of the Festival Village which will be ready for use for Carnival 2018. Photo by Milton Pieters.