A pair of men play a game of chess at the COVID-19 Temporary Shelter for Street Dwellers on the ground level of the car park at Riverside Carpark, at the Centre for Displaced Persons yesterday.

Officials from the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services said the socially displaced are not coming to the COVID-19 shelter, despite the assistance it aims to provide for them during the pandemic.

The shelter was recently opened at Riverside Plaza in Port-of-Spain following refurbishment work.

Yesterday officials conducted a media tour of the facility, which was constructed thanks to assistance by the army.

Director of the Social Displacement Unit at the ministry Loraine Reyes-Borel explained that the shelter was a voluntary service for the socially displaced.

“This shelter gives persons who are currently on the streets an option to be able to stay inside,” she said.

She explained that the Red Cross Society and the Ministry of Health were providing support for those who avail themselves to the service.

“If they do not wish to stay, they cannot be made to stay. There is an admission process. The admission process starts with taking their temperature,” she said.

The facility can facilitate up to 60 people, however, during the visit, there were only 14 people; 13 male and one female ranging from 40 to 92 years of age.

The facility is being managed by the Society of St Vincent De Paul whose administrative manager Martin Alves said it was a challenge to convince people to use the service.

“Everybody had the opportunity on Friday when we started operating to come in and they’re not coming in. I guess they see it as confinement and they don’t want to be confined and there are persons who are still active drug users. They know if they come here there would be some restrictions and they don’t want to be a part of that.”

According to the Alves, the facility is being run through corporate sponsors and subventions by the ministry.

Meanwhile, it was revealed there are discussions to expand the shelter for members of the socially displaced population in San Fernando.

Permanent Secretary in the ministry Jacinta Bailey-Sobers said: “We are also having discussions with the San Fernando City Corporation and our facility in South, which is Court Shamrock, to determine what the needs are in the south.”

The initiative, she said, is intended to continue even after the pandemic subsides.