Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020
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Shelter residents can stay through holidays

Nearly 500 Hurricane Dorian evacuees currently still reside in the Kendal G. L. Isaacs national gymnasium and former Bahamas Academy gymnasium. The government initially announced that it hopes to have both shelters closed by the end of December, but that has now changed. FILE

Residents at shelters run by the Department of Social Services can stay through the holiday season, as the department now plans to close the temporary housing facilities in early next year, according to Deputy Director of Social Services Kim Sawyer.

Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell previously said he had hoped to deactivate them by the end of the year.

“We had hoped that they would be closed by the end of the year, but at this point, it does not appear that we will be able to close,” Sawyer said.

“The Department of Social Services is responsible for emergency and long-term. So, if a date is given, it means that we have determined where persons are going.

“So, whether it be that we have identified that [they] can go with family members or if we can assist them with rent assistance, once it’s determined where all of them are going, and we are comfortable with where they’re going then that is when a final decision will be made for the shelters to be closed.”

As of December 9, the number of shelter residents has decreased from 585 to 497, with 380 residing at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gymnasium and 117 at the old Bahamas Academy campus.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, there were 10 government-approved shelters on New Providence.

In October, Sawyer said the department consolidated these shelters because its manpower was being stretched.

Asked where these residents are going, Sawyer said, “Some of them have found other housing with family members.

“We have also assisted through our rent assistance program.

“Some of them, I understand, have returned to Abaco because most of the persons in the shelters at this time are from Abaco.”

She added that social services will not consider a resident’s immigration status when the closing date is finalized.

“In terms of legal status, that is not something we look at from a humanitarian standpoint,” Sawyer said.

“Now, the government would then have to make a decision on what they plan to do with those persons who do not have legitimate status in The Bahamas.”

In September, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said undocumented migrants in shelters are not immune from deportation, noting that the facilities will not be used “to circumvent the law”.

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