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Chaos For The Refugees

People were left waiting for hours yesterday at both the Department of Social Services and the Registrar General’s Department, as government services struggled to cope with the number of people in need of help after Hurricane Dorian. Among those waiting was Alesha McNeill, pictured seated centre, who lost the roof of her home in Fortune Bay, Grand Bahama, who had obtained a copy of her police record and a job application form, who said: “I just need clothes because I lost everything in the storm. I need a job. I just need help.”  Photo: Rashad Rolle/Tribune Staff

People were left waiting for hours yesterday at both the Department of Social Services and the Registrar General’s Department, as government services struggled to cope with the number of people in need of help after Hurricane Dorian. Among those waiting was Alesha McNeill, pictured seated centre, who lost the roof of her home in Fortune Bay, Grand Bahama, who had obtained a copy of her police record and a job application form, who said: “I just need clothes because I lost everything in the storm. I need a job. I just need help.” Photo: Rashad Rolle/Tribune Staff

• Long lines and desperate people at Social Services

• Hours-long wait to get replacement documents

• Displaced left hunting for work and places to stay

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

RESPONDING to the chaos Hurricane Dorian left behind continued to strain government offices yesterday, producing long lines and rowdy crowds of people desperate for help.

At the Department of Social Services on Baillou Hill Road, hundreds sought housing, clothing, financial and food assistance. 

Less than two miles away on Shirley Street, scores packed the Registrar General’s Department, seeking to replace birth certificates and other documents lost in the storm. The government offices were not designed to service so many people in such a short period of time and for many this realisation seemed to settle in more with each hour that passed. 

Security guards tightly controlled entrances to both places, letting small groups in only when space became available.

For some, this meant five hours or more in the sun on a day when temperatures nearly soared to 90 degrees. 

“I been here from after 9am, these people don’t have no water for you, you in the hot sun, you thirsty, we don’t know what the Bahamas coming to,” said Alesha McNeil, 22, as she sat outside the Department of Social Services shortly before 2.30pm. The hurricane blew the roof off her house in Fortune Bay, Grand Bahama, forcing her to take refuge in the home of a friend. She arrived in Nassau on Monday after days of trying to evacuate. 

She showed The Tribune a copy of the police record she has since obtained and the KFC job form she collected yesterday morning.

“I ain’ looking for no handouts,” she said. “You think if I was someone who want lean on the government I would get this Kentucky application? I’m a reliable, strong, healthy girl. I could clean, I’m a multi-task kind of person. Weight don’t stop me. I just need clothes because I lost everything in the storm. I need a job. I just need help.”

The crowd around Ms McNeil grew agitated. They were convinced people were skipping the line. A social services worker came out to talk to them and soon everyone was pushed inside the department’s building where chairs and air conditioning were available.

Among them was Eric François, a 70-year-old retiree from Abaco who was looking for shelter for himself and his wife. Their free stay at the Sandyport Beach Resort, which began nearly two weeks ago, ends on Saturday and they were turned away from the Kendal Isaacs Gym earlier yesterday because the shelter was too full. 

Sitting next to Mr François, Sandra Conners, 51, said she came to the department because she needs money to rent a $400 per month efficiency off Robinson Road. This was the first time she has ever sought help from social services, she said, having lost a good job at a family restaurant in Abaco because Dorian destroyed the establishment and her home.

Kim Sawyer, deputy director of the Department of Social Services, told The Tribune the department gives $1,200 annually to people who qualify for rent assistance but that requires the kind of assessment that can’t be completed in a day, making it unlikely that Ms Conners, despite hours of waiting, would get what she came for in one trip.

“We’re not making determinations today for long-term assistance and a determination has not been made for us to give beyond our normal means,” said Ms Sawyer who, after 40 years, said she has never seen the department so strained. “We have to manage people’s expectations in terms of what we are and what we offer.”

An influx of people like Mr François, who spent most of the past two weeks in a hotel, is hastening the department’s need to find shelter space, she added.

“Some people went to family, some to other organisations, but that goodwill is wearing off. We have short-term shelters at motels for people who need them. They gave us dates when evacuees will have to leave them and we are working on what will happen next when time is up at those shelters,” she said. 

At the Registrar General’s Department, Davanno Hall, 26, was standing in the tight room for nearly two hours by the time The Tribune arrived to find eight people waiting on a line outside. 

“Services are really slow,” he said. “It’s my day off. I could leave and take a lunch break another day but an hour isn’t enough for this.”

For Barbara Reckley, 55, a discrepancy between the names on her birth certificate and passport led her to the department. She fled Grand Bahama after the storm and is trying to get her son enrolled at a school in New Providence.

Her friend, Stephanie Lightbourne, 53, accompanied her to offer help, having had a similar issue that drew her to the department last year. 

At the Registrar General’s Department, people from New Providence, Abaco and Grand Bahama were ushered to different lines. Those from affected islands received their documents on the spot after a lengthy wait. Those from New Providence were told to return in two days.

“When I came last year, I was here less than an hour and got everything I needed,” said Ms Lightbourne. “I would call this today organised chaos.”

Comments

John 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The long lines are real. And the crowded shelters. Friends in Freeport beats it forced them to avoid the food lines and try scrap food elsewhere. They were also trying to secure a portion of their home to move out the shelter. But they left for just a few minutes only to return to find all their tools were stolen. In a separate incident their neighbors’ door was kicked in and items including fridge and stove were stolen. Desperate people are heartless.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Tempers are beginning to flare.

Kim Sawyer, deputy director of the Department of Social Services, told The Tribune the department gives $1,200 annually to people who qualify for rent assistance but that requires the kind of assessment that can’t be completed in a day,.....

Kim Sawyer should be asked whether illegal Haitian aliens have in the past been receiving rent assistance of $1,200 annually. Our government has created way too many 'rob Peter to pay Paul' programs, resulting in many of the over-taxed 'Peters' having to throw-in the towel and join the 'Pauls'. Sadly many of these handout programs also only serve to exacerbate our illegal Haitian community problems in as much as they are a magnet for many others to come to our shores illegally. Bahamians should be asking themselves why did the Minnis-led FNM government appoint Creole speaking individuals of Haitian ancestry to key cabinet posts responsible for the handout programs.

As for Alesha McNeill, she really should not be seeking a job at a fast food establishment like KFC for all too obvious reasons. She does however appear to be sufficiently undisciplined enough to join the many like her in our very costly and grossly over-bloated nonproductive civil work force.

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