New legislation aims to help nation’s homeless

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By Carlena Knight

Ensuring the country’s homeless population – and other vulnerable people – are properly cared for is the aim of new legislation which will see a database set up along with an outreach programme.

Minister for Social Transformation Dean Jonas said the Social Protection Act, passed a few weeks ago, paves the way for a slew of new measures to protect vagrants, the elderly, disabled and others.

He said currently there is no outreach initiative to help homeless people.

“This bill enables us to establish a programme of outreach to ensure that they are properly taken care of, and so we are not going to look at it and just say aid; we are going to be looking at the entire situation where they are concerned, with their wellbeing and what caused them to be in that situation,” Jonas explained.

“One or two of them I have looked at personally and I found out some of them have property but they have some mental issues and these are some of the things that we need to look at in greater detail to ensure that we properly take care of the vulnerable amongst us no matter what their situation is,” he continued.

“We are now going to be able to have a database with all the vagrants, all our senior citizens, all our disabled people and we will have them segregated accordingly.”

The new statute replaces the Poor Relief Act 1961 which, according to Director of Social Policy Almira Henry, was outdated.

The Social Protection Act will see the implementation of a social protection board, social protection fund, social protection commission, a tribunal, and even an emergency response initiative to help vulnerable individuals through situations such as Covid-19.

Henry said the tribunal’s role would be to handle complaints.

“If I feel, for example, that I am disadvantaged and I would have applied to the social protection board and I was disenfranchised from receiving that support then I have this avenue that I can lodge my complaints through. The matter would be investigated and a decision would be made on a fair basis actually to determine whether or not you were. So, that is a layer which is introduced now and was not in the Poor Relief Act,” Henry explained.

The tribunal would consist of a retired principal nursing officer, retired magistrates and social welfare officers.

Henry also explained briefly the roles of the social protection board and its officers.

This board is expected to comprise of the Attorney General or an appointed representative, the Accountant General or representative, a religious figure, and representatives from female and youth empowerment groups.

Henry said the previous Board of Guardians had been replaced with a “more progressive board”.

“That board then interfaces with the public through social protection officers. Those are officers within the department of social policy and they would go out to do assessments and enrollments. Once they recommend that the person is approved, then it goes to the board for further discussion,” added Henry.

Those approved are then placed on a registry known as the beneficiaries’ management information system.

 Both Jonas and Henry said the legislation was a complex and well laid out plan which will modernise the way in which aid and support is given to the most vulnerable members of society.

Henry added that an official date could not be given for when the initiatives will be rolled out as they are in their early stages. Jonas and Henry were speaking on state media on Monday.

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