The ‘paro’ problem — falling through cracks in our society

A vagrant looking through a store window

Dominica’s ‘paros’ or vagrants present a remarkably complex and perplexing problem.

Addicted; mentally ill; mentally and physically disabled; elderly or ailing – it seems that more and more of them are falling through cracks in our society and becoming fixtures on our streets.

Stripped of stability, self-respect and decency, these vagrants often become desperate, even dangerous. Sometimes they beg. Sometimes they steal. And sometimes they kill.

People were startled in June when well-known ‘paro’ Andy Carbon was murdered. And the nation was stunned when police held an infamous vagrant for that murder and two earlier murders of other ‘paros’.

The possibility that Dominica’s first known serial killer might be a ‘paro’ has thrust the issue of vagrancy to the forefront of public awareness. People are calling for the ‘paro’ problem to be solved once and for all.

Concerns reached a fever pitch about vagrants harassing locals and visitors while creating public health and environmental problems by littering, urinating and defecating in the streets – and in one case, smearing fecal matter on the walls of a bus shed in Roseau.

Much has been spoken and written by various stakeholders over the years about how to solve the problem. The mood of the nation suits the exploration of all viable options.

 

Government & Health Officials

Speaking at the opening of the 2015/2016 cruise ship season, Tourism Minister Robert Tonge noted that the issue of vagrancy is not solely the responsibility of Government.

“All of the supposed vagrants that you see on the streets they all have family; they belong to someone so we ourselves have to help. It cannot be done by the government only, so all of us have to do our part,” he said.

However, when contacted on the issue this month, Tonge declined to comment and directed DNO to the Ministry of Health.

In 2015, Health Minister Dr Kenneth Darroux pointed out that alleviating vagrancy requires collaborative effort and should not be limited to, “tourism, legal affairs, national security, housing and other social services”.

Unfortunately, Dr Darroux could not be reached this month for his comments on this issue and his ministry’s current plans to deal with it.

Speaking on a radio programme in April this year, Head of the Acute Psychiatric Unit (APU) at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), Dr. Griffin Benjamin called on the government to provide suitable accommodation for vagrants.

On the programme, he emphasized that the psychiatric unit is unable to house the vagrants for extended periods, pointing out, “It’s not a place to stay forever; it’s not your home. . . It is not my job to give you a house to live. . . I am only the medical doctor working for the Government.”

Benjamin said he is only responsible for providing vagrants with medication and treatment. “But if the government decides they are not building any house for vagrants, but they’re building houses for all pregnant women . . . all women that can work, all old people who have families to take care of them . . . giving them all they want. . .

“Some women have nine and 10 children and the government think it’s their job to take care of these people with nine and 10 children walking the street, living their lives,” he remarked.

Last year, Minister of Youth Affairs, Justina Charles announced that Government had approved an initial sum of $102,500 to deal with vagrancy in Roseau.

Charles, who at the time was representing Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit at an inauguration ceremony of the Roseau City Council, said a comprehensive programme was in the cards for vagrants.

She described the programme Government was aiming for as a “total, thorough assessment of the individuals to look at their physical, social and psychological well-being and a management plan [which] will be developed in order to meet their specific, identified needs”.

 

A way forward

A source has revealed to Dominica News Online that Minister Charles was speaking about a three-component programme which will soon be unrolled.

Through this programme, difficult patients will be admitted to the hospital for stabilisation.

“The very difficult ones that will cause public nuisance will be admitted, stabilised, brought to some form of rationality,” the official said.

The programme will be executed largely by the Psychiatric Unit of the hospital.

DNO learnt that these individuals will then be encouraged to participate voluntarily in a day programme at the hospital where all their basic needs will be met.

They will be given meals and clothing and professionals, including psychologists and social workers, will work with them to determine what problems led them to vagrancy and help them find solutions.

“So whether it be family, alienation, isolation, economic difficulties, no houses . . . they will work with them to transform them,” DNO was told.

The government-funded programme requires infrastructural adjustments and additional resources, including human resources, as well as resources and arrangements and the provision of meals.

Efforts will be made to resolve accommodation issues for those who are homeless.

“The model we will follow is that of community and family integration and not institutionalization. We are hoping that they can be assisted to be reintegrated into the community,” the source said.

DNO was unable to get further comments on the programme from Dr Benjamin or Dr Darroux.

 

Bonti Liverpool

Bonti Liverpool, who runs the ‘Wisdom to Know’ programme for vagrants, described the project and shared his views on the ‘paro’ issue.

“We assist vagrants by and large . . . we have widened now to anybody who is vulnerable,” Liverpool stated.

He noted that the programme has existed for 10 years now, and in his experience, 90-95 percent of vagrants are addicted to drugs, alcohol or both.

His programme is geared to offer a 10-month treatment course, which includes detoxification, coping techniques, farming and other forms of treatment.

“Most [vagrants] do not complete the programme. Most of them complete the programme for three months and drop out and then come back again and drop out… the rate of relapse is high,” he remarked.

He added, “But we do have success stories where some have completed the programme and are now contributing members of society.”

Bonti Liverpool operates the ‘Wisdom to Know’ rehabilitation programme

Liverpool said his programme is financed mainly by donations from individuals and sometimes the church.

Government funded a pig farm that is essential to the farming component of the rehab programme.

Liverpool said the main challenge in treating ‘paros’ is determining what is responsible for their situations.

He recommended a live-in facility for vagrants. “That facility should have a day to day schedule . . . with a view to reintegrating them back into society as normal people,” he asserted.

Liverpool commented that society creates vagrancy and therefore has to “take back its children and try to reintegrate them into society. . .

“The ideal thing would be a live-in, residential drug programme,” he noted, adding that it should be complemented by a half-way home to help reintegrate rehabilitated vagrants into society gradually.

Such a programme should also include a drop-in centre where vagrants could go for baths, meals, clothing and other basic needs, he said.

Liverpool disclosed that plans are in place to set up a long-term shelter and a drop-in centre for vagrants.

At the moment, Liverpool operates his treatment facility at his home at Grand Bay, but he is moving to set up a long-term shelter in October.

 

Norris Prevost

DNO also contacted former Parliamentarian, Norris Prevost who has provided Sunday lunch for vagrants in Roseau for many years.

Prevost said the ‘paro’ problem is serious and has to be dealt with firmly. But he cautioned that it also requires compassionate consideration of their individual challenges.

He pointed out that many vagrants are mentally ill and some are drug addicts. Others cannot find work, he said, simply because they are deportees or ex-prisoners.

The former representative of the Roseau Central Constituency said that up to five years ago an average of about 40 vagrants showed up for Sunday lunch, but since then he has seen the figure grow to around 100 or more.

Vagrants are transient, but Prevost thinks there are about 70 to 100 vagrants who live in the streets of Roseau continuously.

“What is of great concern . . . is the fact that I am seeing a lot more young people . . . who turn up for lunch . . . Unless we come up with solutions, the problem is going to be acute for a very long time.”

“It is a reflection, I believe, of the dysfunctional situation that Dominica is in right now at the national government level and the local government level as well,” he commented.

Former Parliamentarian for the Roseau Central Constituency, Norris Prevost

Prevost believes the community has a key role to play in the solution to the problem, but because of the complex nature of vagrancy, he believes several arms of Government must own up to their responsibility to deal with ‘paros’ effectively.

He identified these as the Health Ministry, Prison, Immigration, Welfare Division, the police and even the village councils.

“You do not see any sort of serious preventive measures happening on a consistent basis. Individual citizens are the main ones who seem to have the responsibility and the willingness to try to maintain some sort of order . . . I would say that we can do better,” Prevost added.

He pointed to the urgent need for a public rehab facility to help persons addicted to alcohol and drugs.

He also sees an urgent need for a facility to assess, treat and temporarily house ‘paros’ with a view to reintegrating them into society.

“We as society do have a role to play. Families have a role to play. Our aim in relation to the vagrants should be to try to get them back into useful citizens.

The process of getting them back into being useful citizens must entail those who are capable; to get them back into work, help them to overcome their addictions, reconnecting them with their families and also working with families so they can take a certain amount of responsibility,” Prevost said.

Noting that vagrancy cannot be ignored and is not likely to disappear completely, he emphasised the need for stakeholders to unite and tackle the problem.

Prevost maintained that there should be an accurate assessment of the number of ‘paros’ in the nation and a careful determination of the extent of the problem, as well as the main causes of vagrancy.

 

Conclusion

While the ‘paro’ problem remains one of Dominica’s most intractable social ills, the murder of Andy Carbon has created much public unease about the situation and has injected new urgency into the task of finding the elusive solution.

May the surge in public awareness caused by Carbon’s death trigger urgent, innovative action to seal the cracks in society and rescue our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.

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39 Comments

  1. Scampy
    August 3, 2017

    When you see a Paro, you must say: “there for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ go myself”. Most, if not all Paro’s are mentally ill and the mentally ill are so, so difficult to treat, to understand and to accommodate. A terrible, terrible problem for any country. I say, get Skerro to put some millions from our CBI money into homes/ facilities for these disadvantaged and ill folk. Having them wander about untreated, unloved and neglected is an abomination and disgrace upon all of us.

    I would gladly send in at least $500 now if I knew that it would go directly into a Paro’s pocket to help him/ her have some kind of a decent life.

  2. August 3, 2017

    But I find Norris Prevost look soooo much like MORGAN FREEMAN. Wow!!!!

  3. zandoli
    August 2, 2017

    I don’t know how financially able the families of these people are, but if they can scrape together a few dollars, they should try as best they can to get their family members off the street. I would definitely not rely on the government to take care of my relative. I would seek their help if needed, but I would take the lead in looking after the interest of my family.

  4. CONCERN CITIZEN
    August 2, 2017

    Mental Health services are needed. That’s the only way out.

  5. Clueless!
    August 2, 2017

    Treated like dogs? Hmph! I know a lot of people who treat their dogs like royalty. People dont want you to kick their dog. I am not ashamed to say that when I see a vagrant approaching I cross the road. I dont mind contributing financially to a fund to gelp improve the problem.

    • Dominican Passports
      August 2, 2017

      Why would you want to kick someone dog? You sound like a wicked frustrated person. :roll:

  6. Let The Truth Be Known - Original
    August 1, 2017

    It is a serious problem and how to treat them so that they could function usefully in society.
    There have been much discussion about this situation. First, they need somewhere to live be it temporarily while they are treated and rehabilitated. Hopefully they will remain there. There are times these people are restless and will not remain in one place.
    All stakeholders will have to get together and discuss this matter seriously on how to at least try to solve this serious problem in the Dominican society. May they not waste any more time simply talking. Action is needed.

  7. B VIDAL
    August 1, 2017

    HI not oniy paros thair are stray dogs even want to bite u in the str,eets of Roseau,

  8. Amarossa
    August 1, 2017

    Great piece! The report compiled by this DNO reporter is concise and fact based. Instead of just this short conclusion, a gentle suggestion could be put forward that govt use some of that CBI money to open a “state of the art” detox center.

  9. Zicack
    August 1, 2017

    An article worth reading,reflecting on,and considering how can I as an individual ,contribute towards improving this sad and frightening situation.Well done.

  10. UDOHREADYET
    August 1, 2017

    funny how you could count the amount of people living on street in Roseau on one hand 25 years ago. Poor Parenting, Hard drugs, laziness and and a fast developing society where the people cannot keep up mentally with the world changing around them due to inadequate schooling and lack of initiative to change and develop one self… all that has made vagrancy into an issue.

    When a business owner needs bars on windows and doors, private security guards and have to purchased licensed weapons to protect themselves an their family you have a MAJOR CRIME PROBLEM.

    No matter ow much development and jobs are available the minds of the people are whats corrupted.
    they dont plant their food, they fooder for drug dealers and steal for money to buy drugs. the government should increase the penalty for Hard drugs (cocaine), robbery (armed), rape (women & children) and murder!

    If they don’t address it they are part of the problem, people are getting away with these things repeatedly.

    • anonymous2
      August 1, 2017

      Too many people having children and turning them out in the streets to fend for themselves. The government has a “hands off” on this issue. It is unfortunately everyone for themselves in DA. No sense of community prevails. It isn’t like it was 50 yrs ago when people would help each other. Now, there is an attitude of “entitlement” among many. Entitlement to other peoples property and massive theft without the police doing anything except eventually showing up and then disappearing for good.

    • Let The Truth Be Known - Original
      August 1, 2017

      Simply put, they do need help and soon enough.

    • Dominican
      August 2, 2017

      And at the same time our P.M. paints a picture of great progress during his tenure. How do you rhyme that with the reality you just described? Progress is not only measured by the amount of money you are able to accumulate but more so by the quality of life for your people. Money is just a commodity. You can’t eat it and only has value if used wisely to add value for the community at large.

      • UDOHREADYET
        August 2, 2017

        @Dominican thats part of the issue right there…
        people these days keep focusing on the government to solve issues that are NOT governmental issues but individual and family issues.
        That entitlement mentality mixed with selfish pride could be root cause.

    • Mr. Ben Dover
      August 3, 2017

      Right now if you walk from bayfront to windsor park you might find at least one paro on every block.

    • anonymous2
      August 6, 2017

      What are you talking about? Don’t you know that all governments worldwide are involved in drug traffiking to some extent.

  11. reader
    August 1, 2017

    are these photos of paros?

    Admin: The photos are captioned

  12. August 1, 2017

    The gov’t needs taking swift action to help these people.No one in their good mind would like to become a vagrant. Open rehabilitation centers do what ever it takes to help the people because it is so sad to see families get hurt and divided because they are not capable of helping themselves to over come such great difficulties.

  13. pashy coco
    August 1, 2017

    Tasteless. Should that be published while the place (Dominica) is starving for tourists? Only on DNO.

    • anonymous2
      August 1, 2017

      The truth is rather hard for some people to swallow. Why would tourists come here with the situation the way it is? Are you just trying to dupe them for your own pocket? I am sure that they won’t appreciate that.

      • Anonymous
        August 2, 2017

        My point exactly! No tourist is obliged to come to Dominica you know. There are plenty other places they can go to but our government clique only focus on selling passports. To hell with anybody else.

    • UDOHREADYET
      August 2, 2017

      You’d have to clean up the streets and restaurants and make them presentable for tourists… hence the article.
      Real talk… it’s not only for tourists but because we deserve to live in a better society where children should not be exposed to this trash ghettoize lifestyle… especially when its avoidable and unnecessary… they emulate what they think the adult standards are… if your mother and father nasty chances are you will be as well.

  14. Mellie
    August 1, 2017

    Great article DNO! Very informative as it brings to light a very pressing social problem that needs urgent attention now

  15. BG
    August 1, 2017

    One of the best articles that I have read in DNO in a very long time. I must admit that I am surprised to know that about 100 vagrants roam the streets of Roseau. Indeed, various stakeholders involvement are important; from families to government.

  16. viewsexpressed
    August 1, 2017

    “Much has been spoken and written by various stakeholders over the years about how to solve the problem. The mood of the nation suits the exploration of all viable options.” Please be advised that this government has no clue on how to begin resolving this problem. This is not their priority and what I have heard from a prominent social worker quoting a government official, before the tourist ship arrives “we must pick up these Paros and vagrants and dump them some place and after 5pm can return”. Now read the message from a sitting government minister, just to show how politically illiterate these guys are: “Tourism Minister Robert Tonge noted that the issue of vagrancy is not solely the responsibility of Government”….Really, ?, so who is.? Who has created the poverty. homelessness and unemployment in Dominica…and this vagrancy to the level that it is Now? Skerrit and his corrupt government? Crazy!

  17. August 1, 2017

    Why dont you start a project for the persons you mentioned that are vulnerable.You can start a charity that is how its done in developed countries.Peopld see a need and then governments later assist. I dare you to be kind and thoughtful.
    First of all these people have to be seen as human bekngs taie the guy who died imagine hot wster was thrown on him like a dog, he was knocked down by a car, snd then met his fate.
    You guys need educatkng all of you .Step up

  18. tph
    August 1, 2017

    Well said! I find myself buying a meal for a paro each month. It’s not much, but it’s something. I look forward to the half way house and rehab facility soon. The homeless are people too. Just like us they are someone’s son or daughter.

  19. Benton
    August 1, 2017

    Mr. Norris Prevost: “It is a reflection, I believe, of the dysfunctional situation that Dominica is in right now at the national government level and the local government level as well,” he commented. Well said Mr. Prevost. It is exactly that. Not to bring political biases into your argument, but truly this country is replete with examples of young promising men getting into trouble with the law for smoking marijuana, then get kicked out and run down by the police, then eventually get imprisoned. Then comes psychiatry, then ostracizing, then downwards to drug addiction to heal the stress. Then comes poverty and then comes vagrancy. Marijuana is not a drug but an herb used for the upliftment of a man’s mind, and to get family and other dependents to throw away these promising men to the law is crippling our societal structure. You cant find work well here goes. Another downward spiral to dismantle your entire life. So you caused the problem well fix it at the root and not the branches.

  20. Jay
    August 1, 2017

    Paro…..sorry type o

  21. Jay
    August 1, 2017

    I refuse to even read further with ur stereotype….how dear you compare park with mentally disables or physically disables…..that’s ignorance and I will not render my energy to read further….it could be your child or grand child as disable…..chupes man….I’m pissed….

    • One Love
      August 1, 2017

      I think it should be taken as: There are Paros who are mentally or physically disabled, but not all mentally or physically disabled people are Paros.

      Calm down.

  22. Deja vous news
    August 1, 2017

    My only question is to the President Charles “Ayatolla” Sarverin is this Fake news?

  23. Titiwi
    August 1, 2017

    It continues to pain me to see our vagrant population uncared for except for some private initiatives. Government trying to shift responsiblity to the families of such poor creatures will not due. The Hon. Prime Minister does not send the people he gives alms to on wednesdays home with the same message, does he? One of the raisons d’etre of a central government is to provide social services for those in need, including vagrants but I see little evidence of that, despite public hand wringing by various MInisters. What a wretched life, to expire on a market stall exposed to the vagaries of the weathers, like so much trash just for want of care and shelter.
    One gets the impression that once you do not- or can not vote, you do not count. However if you are not born here, have never been here and don’t even speak the language, you are a valuable asset provided you forked out a lot of U.S.$. for our citizenship. Greed, is evil, the opposite of charity and does no man good.

  24. Anon
    August 1, 2017

    Amen! Something has to be done, and soon.

  25. Dominican Passports
    August 1, 2017

    If allu had leave gravity on the road he would have fixed the problem, doh cry now :roll:

  26. Mr. Ben Dover
    August 1, 2017

    They chose to use the DOminica Sports Club on Bath Road and High Street, a prominent location used by many both young and old for socializing, tennis (has hosed OECS Tennis and Squash tournaments), squash, billiards (pools) darts etc. as the new Grotto. When i returned i was actually furious that this is what they did (as a temporary fix they said). To this day! they have not come up with a suitable location for the home for the homeless. The building on Bath road looks like it needs a lot of repair and is STILL NOT SUITABLE for the home for the homeless. Officials pass the vagrants on the street like they dont see them. giving them food and drink and clothes does NOT solve the problem. It only perpetuates it. FIND a place out of town or nearby that the vagrants can get the attention they need. study other islands like st marten and barbados and find out how they keep their vagrants mostly out of sight.

  27. zandoli
    August 1, 2017

    I can identify with the mental health issue. This struck very close to home recently when a family member was literally “going crazy”. One thing he had which most of these very unfortunate people don’t have is strong family support and people to advocate on his behalf.

    On seeing his condition, we very quickly jumped into action to get him the help he needed (including hospitalization). We also offered him lots of words of encouragement and support. He is back to normal now, but is on medication to control his condition.

    I can only imagine how he would have turned out had he lacked that kind of family support and the medical facilities that are available here.

    These are not hopeless cases. They need medical care and family support to turn around their condition.

  28. ALmighty God help
    August 1, 2017

    Smh. they need to be taken off the streets yes but at the same time they are human beings,they should not be treated like dogs but some of them are very disturbing,example the one who passes feces in his hair,i mean what can be done about this…

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