A man makes himself comfortable under a tree on the Harris Promenade in San Fernando, yesterday, days after San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello closed the promenade to the public to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello says the number of homeless people in the city has not increased during the pandemic, noting that 59 street dwellers have been recorded on his database.

Since the Mayor and his team blocked off public spaces including Harris Promenade to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Regrello said some of the people who frequent the Promenade are not homeless but merely come to do a hustle or to get a free meal.

He said the genuinely homeless people were those who came out of prison, lost family and property or those deportees who had lost touch with relatives here after living abroad for many years.

While he said some of the street dwellers had serious substance abuse problems, Regrello said there were other street dwellers who were “opportunist.”

“They take advantage and exploit people who genuinely want to help the homeless,” Regrello said.

Urging people to stop feeding the homeless on the streets, Regrello said apart from causing pollution and sanitation issues, some of the “opportunists” posing as homeless people take donated food and sell it back to the homeless.

“It is a business they are running. They have a Homeless People network in which they make contact with people who want to assist homeless people. It’s a petty hustle. They sell the donated food. They have extra boxes and those who wake up late, have to now pay for food,” Regrello said.

The donated food is sold by the corridor of the Magistrates court, he added. Regrello said out of the 59 people identified as homeless, the SFCC has found a place for eight of them.

He urged citizens to call the corporation if they wanted to donate food, or call the St Vincent De Paul home, Court Shamrock or the Caribbean Dawah Association if they wanted to schedule meals for homeless people.

Regrello also said the SFCC had successfully dealt with the issue of overcrowding at the Marabella market.

“In our meeting with vendors, there were some recommendations about changing the days. But Sunday is a traditional market day. There is a perception of better prices and deals on Sunday so we decided to keep that day for the market,” Regrello said.

He added, “We did a site visit at the market. We installed tents, road markings for people queueing up, sanitizing stations. We had everything in place so that by 9 am, the market was clear and there were no lines. We also had announcements telling people to shop briskly.”

Regrello said he was thankful for the work done by Senior Supt Cecil Santana and his team who ensured that there was order at the marketplace.