By Theresa Goodwin
Five Barbudan families, including young children, who have been living in refurbished shipping containers after Hurricane Irma destroyed their homes three years ago are facing eviction.
The National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), in a letter dated August 26, said the containers have been reassigned to new owners – and the current occupants must discontinue their “unauthorised use” with immediate effect.
The letter said the new owners would be identifying their assigned containers shortly.
The affected residents, however, claim they were not directly notified and have been caught off guard.
NODS’ director Philmore Mullin confirmed that the containers had been assigned to homeless people and, as part of that arrangement, the beneficiaries must move them from their current spot adjacent to the community centre.
He also alleged that those currently occupying the containers had no authorisation to do so.
Mullin told Observer that the containers had been shipped to Barbuda shortly after the September 2017 disaster and were intended as temporary accommodation for workers, primarily those employed by APUA who were assisting with rehabilitation work.
He said that Barbuda Council members had been raising concerns about the unsanitary nature of the location they were placed in and, upon consultation with Prime Minister Gaston Browne, he was advised to assign them to persons in need.
“Immediately after things started stabilising some persons moved out and one family that occupied from Barbuda with my permission has since moved back to his home,” Mullin explained.
“My understanding, after the group of persons who were using them lawfully moved out, persons just up and decided they were going to occupy them. After a decision was made to give them out, then I heard people were occupying them without my permission. Those who were given letters were occupying and were not given permission to do so.”
APUA employee Kelvin Gordon is among those affected. He told Observer he had moved into a container legitimately but had now been ordered to leave via a text message which was shared with the mother of his child who occupies the temporary home with him.
“I find it very unprofessional; I don’t know what to say. We do not have anywhere else to go and they are putting us out,” Gordon said.
He said, prior to Hurricane Irma, he and his family had shared a home which lost its roof to the catastrophe.
Immediately after Irma, he returned with a few of his APUA colleagues to assist in the restoration of critical services.
The workers, he said, occupied the containers while on the sister island, based on indications from the authorities that their homes would be prioritised in the rebuilding process.
“I was supposed to be on the priority list and for some reason up to now nothing has been done to fix my home,” he claimed. “A lot of people who used to live in rent houses now have houses; I may have to return to the same house now which is not secure for my family,” the distraught man said.
Mullin said he would be reaching out to Gordon to speak to him about his individual case.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Barbuda Council said the containers should be relocated to a more suitable location where the occupants can be more comfortable.
Paul Nedd explained that Council members are concerned that they are in an area which is unsanitary, and had written to NODS and APUA offering their help in finding a more appropriate environment. However, both agencies would be responsible for installing water and electricity for the occupants.
He said he has received no reply to date and the containers remain where they are.
Nedd said the Council was doing all it could to safeguard the residents’ health and wellbeing.
“If you are going to ask people to move, they must have somewhere to move to. These families have nowhere else to go,” he added.