20 years of Channel 5; 1992 Homeless feature revisited
Channel 5 is celebrating twenty years and we are bringing back features that occurred over the past two decades. Tonight we are featuring a story done by former News Five Reporter, William Neal, who is now the co-host of Open Your Eyes. In this 1992 piece on the homeless situation Belize City, you will see the old post office, Neal with a full head of hair and well-known personality and former News Five Anchor, Ernesto Vasquez.
William Neal [File: 1992]
“If you walk the streets of Belize City you can’t help but notice them. Visit the post office or the Bliss Institute and you might even trip over them. Not too long ago, the homeless meant only elderly males. Today the group includes younger Belizeans of both sexes.”
Life on the streets require streets smarts and success in this hand to mouth existence depends on lady luck, the kindness of strangers or pickings from a dirt box. However, when smarts luck and charity fails and hunger takes over, many find their way to Mercy Kitchen on Queen Street. The Mercy Kitchen, serving lunch to the homeless and elderly since 1989, began serving breakfast in October of last year. Magnus Vernon, who lives under the Parcel Post Building on Church Street, visits the kitchen at every opportunity.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays and Fridays—the other three days well you bounce like wa tennis ball.”
“What do you do for food on those days?”
“Well just bum around, fight the world.”
Miss Rita Douglas, the assistant director at the kitchen, said the number of clients is steadily increasing.”
Rita Douglas, Assistant Director, Mercy Kitchen
“On our guest list we have eighty-six people and we at this moment we are not able to take on anymore due to the allowance that we have. So few would come in at times, we’d give them that plate of food but we cannot have them on our list added on. So it’s hard.”
After satisfying their appetite, many of these people check out their health at the Mercy Clinic, housed in St. Catherine’s Convent. Misses Donecia Aguet is the head nurse at the clinic.
Donecia Aguet, Head Nurse, Mercy Clinic
“We have about thirty-five homeless. These men—mostly they are men—are cases with enlarged prostate gland and they would come in with a continent of mostly urine or feces and that’s why mostly it is for bathing daily because they are so smelly when they come. And they are sent to the Belize City hospital for further treatment. If they need operation to correct that problem.”
Misses Aguet also said that the clinic offers a change of clothing to the clients and in December they hand out blankets to keep them warm in their streets beds. There are a lucky few who have found a home at Gann’s Rest House operated by the Salvation Army and located on East Canal. The institution can house twenty people and provides bed, breakfast and supper. Those who can afford it pays one dollar a night and there has been only a slight increase in the numbers staying here recently.
Errol Robateau, Commander, Salvation Army
“The reason for that is that most people want to bring in sick people and we do not take sick people because we do not have the ability to take care of sick people. If they are here and they become sick because of age after a number of years, well we try to tolerate and take care of them.”
Mister Walter Banner is a long time resident of Gann’s. Over five years ago he was abandoned by his family.
“Where would you be if you weren’t here at Gann’s yourself?”
“Well I would have to be alone.”
Shortly after this interview Mister Banner died but thanks to Gann’s Rest House, he did not spend his last days alone or on the streets.
Are Belizeans taking notice of the plight of the homeless?’
Resident # 1
“Well I’d like to do something about it. I feel like I’d like to take them home myself and care of them.”
Resident # 2
“Most people say I’m—they are people who have probably had a rough early life and they are just paying the consequences of their way of living—whether they’d be drunkards or just poor or whatever. But I am not sure if that is a good excuse to just leave them there anyway noh.”
“They don’t know that some could be fortunate and some unfortunate so people just pass all kind of remarks on the streets—not pleasant—that’s all I can say.”
Resident # 3
“Just build something where you can put them ina and make them come off of the street and get their meal to time.”
“Has anyone every beat you on the street/”
“Beat me no. Well I think I am able to take care of myself.”
The Ministry of Social Services has plans to build a home. But until that home is built perhaps the one thing that even a homeless Belizean can count on is his best friend. William Neal, Channel Five News, Belize City.
Gann’s Guest House, which provided shelter for so many, has closed its doors because of lack of financing.