The $8 million centre was formally re-opened yesterday. It is one of four community homes for at-risk children run by the Holy Faith Sisters. According to the centre’s administrators, the homes all have an official policy of non- discrimination, a policy which was yesterday endorsed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris, Minister of State in the Ministry of Gender and Child Development Raziah Ahmed, and Opposition PNM MP Marlene Mc Donald. All attended yesterday’s event, with Harris blessing each room, sprinkling holy water.
“Our doors are open to any boy or girl we feel are equipped to help, irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability or socio-economic status,” Credo said in a media release for the event yesterday.
Coordinator of the Credo Centre, Dale Bartholomew, said there is a problem of parents abandoning children because they are gay.
“We don’t have any discrimination where the children are concerned,” the coordinator said. “What we do is educate them and education is one of our key priorities in our developmental programme. So all of our boys are in school. And even if they may belong to a different group or sexual orientation it is not going to stop us from taking them in and actually helping them.”
The centre can accommodate 16 boys. It is equipped with many facilities, such as communal areas and a kitchen. Armed officers stood guard on Nelson Street yesterday as guests arrived at the new building. On the problem of gay boys being thrown out of their homes by their parents, Harris expressed concern.
“I think that is the worst thing that you can do,” the RC Archbishop told Newsday at yesterday’s event. “I think people are people. All people have to be respected. All people, whatever orientation, are made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. We have to find God in them.” As he blessed the facilities, the archbishop prayed for all who enter it.
“May all who enter it be treated with respect and kindness,” Harris said. “May the spirit of love and affection touch all who use the rooms of this house. Loving God, may you lovingly care for all who will live, work and recreate here. Amen.”
The Holy Faith Sisters are members of the church, though not an organ of it. The Church has adopted a mixed stance on gays, sanctioning the idea of compassion yet maintaining strict doctrine.
Minister Ahmed said the rights of the child should be upheld without discrimination.
“All children have the right to care, love, support and interventions where needed in keeping with the rights of the child,” she told Newsday when questioned after the event.
In her address she said, “To all the children who find their way through the doors of this centre, you are our priority. We will ensure that your rights are upheld.”
MP Mc Donald said no discrimination of any form should be tolerated.
“So because a child is of a different orientation they are thrown out?” McDonald asked. “I don’t think that anybody should be thrown out because of their sexual orientation. Not at all. I do not subscribe to discrimination because of your sexual orientation. And I say that with confidence.”
In an address, Sister Roberta O’Flaherty, executive director of Credo, said the centre aims to provide an alternative to gangs and crime.
“Our centres offer a second chance to socially displaced young people whose experience has been victimisation and marginalisation,” she said. “While we recognise the critical role government and law enforcement play, we believe they cannot solve the problem alone.”
O’Flaherty continued, “Our worst crime is abandoning our children. For many of our children, the answer to today’s problems is not just tomorrow, it is tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But tomorrow is much too late for children who are suffering.”
The Nelson Street facility also offers hairdressing courses for parents in the surrounding community. The Credo Foundation for Justice runs the Credo Centre at Nelson Street, the Aylward House Transitional Facility in Gonzales, Sophia House at Park Street, Port-of-Spain, and Ruah, a transitional facility for girls in Belmont.