By Machela Osagboro
Some much-needed attention is currently being paid to homeless and mentally ill residents, who are arguably among the most vulnerable in the society, especially in this climate of heightened sensitivity towards transmission of the coronavirus.
Veldon Raguette, the founder of the soup kitchen on lower All Saints Road, is leading the charge to assist the less fortunate who do not have the means to protect themselves, since they are more open to the elements and may therefore be at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19.
“If those vagrants catch it, it’s gonna spread like wildfire,” Raguette said. “We may think that we don’t get in contact with them, but they get in contact with a lot of surfaces that we get in contact with in town, especially around the market place.”
He told Observer that it was imperative that, “we ensure that their immune system is strong, and they are clean when eating”, as he outlined some new measures that the soup kitchen has implemented, in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Transformation and Global Citizens Foundation and other private organisations.
“Global Citizens will be providing oranges once a week for all our guests, to give them a little boost in Vitamin C. We will also provide breakfast every day, hopefully by next week, to help their immune system fight the virus a little bit,” he said.
Raguette added that after Antigua and Barbuda returns to normal, the inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison will aid in building a bathroom facility there to encourage proper hygiene when the homeless visit to collect their meals.
Pertaining to the current social distancing rule, he said about 60 homeless people collect their meals at different times throughout the day, which essentially eliminates the need for them to line-up. So, while he is not worried about large numbers congregating, he said he is adhering to the six-feet distance advised by the Ministry of Health.
Most importantly, he added that he and his aides are protecting themselves to ensure that they do not contract the virus.
Raguette operates the soup kitchen in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Transformation.
Minister Samantha Marshall said “hand sanitisers were given to the facility at the soup kitchen and we are now looking to establish hand-washing facilities; we have a sponsor that has come forward to put in bathroom facilities.
“We try to utilise the system there so that they wash their hands before and after they pick up their lunch, so most of the homeless we are targeting are through those meals. It is difficult for us to identify them in every place that they are, because they do not congregate except when they come to have their meals.”
Marshall said that a safe house will be established to provide reprieve and rehabilitation for homeless people so that they are not at risk in any future outbreaks. “We have been looking at another premises and perhaps, we will be able — right after we have dealt with this Covid situation — to begin some work on those premises so that we can have a more structured approach to the situation of the homeless,” she added.