‘It’s a mess’

Mattresses covered the floor of the old Bahamas Academy gymnasium on Wulff Road yesterday, which is housing nearly 200 Hurricane Dorian evacuees.

Many lie on their beds in the non-air conditioned space. Some still wore bandages, reminders of the dangerous mess they left behind when they fled storm-ravaged Grand Bahama and Abaco.

Access to the facility, like many other shelters on New Providence, is forbidden to the media. The Nassau Guardian has been denied access to the inside of the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium on several occasions.

But The Guardian was able to see firsthand the conditions inside the old Bahamas Academy gym.

Just outside the building, laundry hung on gates to dry – people’s underwear left exposed to passing motorists and pedestrians.

Justin Dabelus, 61, one of the shelter’s residents, said he was grateful for life and while the shelter conditions were not ideal, he was making the best of it.

“The way we’re living, socially, it’s not really how it’s supposed to be,” he said.

“…More than 100 people in one spot, with one bathroom for women and one bathroom for men. When you go there, it’s a mess.

“But it’s still good because we don’t have any choice.”

He added, “The food, I would say it’s 40 percent. Some days people could eat it. Some days people can’t eat it.”

Dorian, one of the strongest hurricanes to ever make landfall in the Atlantic, tore through the two islands nearly three weeks ago, leaving ruin in its wake. At least 52 people died in the storm, and thousands were left homeless.

Dabelus said he wants to return to Abaco, and would take advantage of the government’s proposed temporary housing on the island.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government will establish tent cities and allow people to stay in mobile homes on their properties as they seek to rebuild on Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Dabelus said, “If they put up comfortable tents, I will go back.”

However, others were visibly angry over their treatment in the shelter.

One man in a group of people gathered outside the building said, “This is just a little bit better than a detention center.”

Another complained of having no clean clothes and being unable to wash the ones he wore.

“We get treated like animals in here,” said 25-year-old Marie Vincent, a pregnant mother of two who was fed up with the constant lack of answers.

“We’re spoken to any kind of way. If we ask for something, they have to feel good on a good day to accommodate us with our concerns.”

She added, “We are denied a lot of things here. They call us ‘these people.’”

Vincent said one of her primary concerns is when her children will be able to attend school.

“We done tell everybody our concerns, but ain’t nobody come here and say, ‘Well this is when the kids are going to school,’” she said.

“I had to send my kids by their relatives on their father’s side because I can’t keep them.

“I’m pregnant. I’m going through the stress of losing both my parents. My husband is nowhere to be found, so it’s crazy that they don’t want to answer our questions.”

She said that one of the hold-ups is the required medical exam for children. Many parents already completed the process for their children to begin school in Abaco, but now must go through it again, weeks after the school year started.

“When I went to the school, Stephen Dillet, they said we have to get the medical, and we just did those things in Abaco,” she said.

Willyn Geffard, 31, also said she has no idea when her three children will be able to resume their studies.

“I went to the stadium,” she said.

“They said they’re going to give me a date. There’s a certain date you have to come in and then they give you a proper date to register the kids and get a physical, and then they give you a letter to carry to the school.

“[My son] right now, he said he can’t wait to go to school, but it’s a process. You have to wait. To tell you the truth, I’m planning to send him to Eleuthera to my mom who already went there to let him start over there.

“Over here is a faster pace, and I don’t want that for my kids.”

She added, “The crime rate is ridiculous. I never wanted that lifestyle, especially since I have sons. I can’t watch my teenager get shot and stabbed. I have a 14-year-old and I have a six-year-old and a three-year-old. I can’t watch that. Kids who grew up on the island instead of Nassau, their minds are different. They develop in a different way.

“So it’s hard.”

Geffard said she hopes to return to Abaco.

“Abaco is home,” she said.

“My boss and them went over to try and get things organized and try to see our way forward. I’m willing to go back. This is not a home for me.”

She added, “Everything you go through in life, it’s for a reason or to better yourself. So, right now, I take this as a stepping stone for me to uplift myself and my kids, but at the same time, it’s hard to do it on your own.”

However, Vincent was not as sure of her future on the island that was her home.

“They asked us if we want to stay or return,” she said.

“Return where? Where we going to go? To what? What we going to go to? Those that have kids, even if the schools are rebuilt, where are the people going to stay? Where are they going to find jobs? Those that had jobs for years and they still lost their job, where are they going to go?”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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