Grant, who has a doctoral degree in Social Welfare, collected data and research from 1996 to 2007 by sitting down with the homeless and learning about their lifestyles particularly in Tamarind Square — “the capital of homelessness in Trinidad”.
“I was surprised to learn that the homeless population changes every ten years. I found out that the homeless ten years ago are different in terms of behaviour, mannerisms and lifestyles than they are now,” he said.
He continued: “Therefore, the homeless that you see literally sleeping on the pavement in the day, you did not have that ten years ago. That was reserved for the night.”
What he also found out was that the homeless now are lazier than the homeless from the ’90s.
“The homeless in the ’90s were hustlers, you have a small minority now that are hustlers but the majority of them just lie, sit and wait for charity,” Grant explained.
From his research he estimates there are at least 2,000 homeless persons in the country with 88 percent from Trinidad.
“Eighty six percent of that are males which mean 14 percent are females and that is because women cannot live on the streets because of their monthly cycle,” he explained.
Grant randomly selected 50 homeless persons for the study and found that 26 percent worked as labourers, ten percent as clerks/teachers and 64 percent had occupations ranging from painters, fishermen and security.
Thirty-six percent participated in sexual activities at various times, eight percent were not involved in sexual activities and 54 percent did not have sex often. Sixty-three percent of the homeless used alcohol (rum, beer and bay rum), 21 percent used drugs and 16 percent used neither.
In another study related to the “nowayrians,” Grant sat down with 30 homeless persons to look at the phenomenon of homelessness during and after Carnival activities in the country.
Many of them look at Carnival as a wonderful time and great period to make money as they hustle for beer bottles from street to street. Some of them also had suggestions on improving the festival.
“I would like the Carnival to remain under government’s control. NCC should attract better people to promote the culture. They should spread the judges around. There should be judges on the road, roving judges would do much to enhance the results of the competitions.”
Grant who has written seven other books believes the current government has failed the homeless terribly and he is not impressed with what they have been trying to do because they “do not have things in place,” one person said.
When asked what he thinks about the Government’s plans to eradicate homelessness in the nation’s capital, he said: “They only talk. In my lifetime the Government has never put a programme in place to benefit the homeless people on the street. Riverside Plaza is a joke because it has turned out to be worse for the homeless than the streets because of all the negative things that goes on there like drugs.”
He said the homeless describe Riverside Plaza as a place to crash.
“They go there, they get three square meals a day and they sit there doing nothing and then the facilitators treat them like vegetables. That is not preparing human beings to be released into society,” he said.
“They wanted to send them to Chacachacare, Piparo, Caura and this is all they keep saying. We are going to put them here or there but the thing is where are they going to put them if they have no buildings and no medical and psychiatric staff?” he asked.
“Prior administrations, what have they done outside of Riverside Plaza? It started under the NAR government and then the UNC took it on.
Basdeo Panday gave them Riverside so they could move off the street and get the services they need but it did not turn out that way because he only lasted five years,” he explained.
“As a matter of fact, throughout my book, the homeless said they had more faith in the UNC government because Panday started doing things,” he revealed.
In the book, there are four case studies that are loaded with insightful details and it provides information on the lives of Michael, a former pan player, Ronald, a former accounts clerk, Indian, a fisherman and Foxy, the only female.
“These four are all different with regards to how they got on the streets but they all end up homeless,” he said.
He admits eradicating homelessness will take a while so he had a few suggestions that will help deal with the situation during that time.
“I think they should get an emergency automobile that goes around with doctors, psychiatrists and social workers that will interview as many homeless as possible and diagnose them and see if they can provide temporary services for them,” he suggested. He also believes that outreach services should be implemented right away particularly for those who are medically ill.
“There are a lot of sick homeless people, some with Parkinson’s disease, asthma and pneumonia. When they go to the hospital or the clinic they are turned away because they are smelly and dirty so with these outreach services they could get the medication that they need,” he said.
Grant pointed out the places where the homeless choose to sleep.
“The Ministry of Social Development, the Treasury, City Hall, High Street in San Fernando, the Croisee, they go there expecting to be seen, to say ‘Hey, you are neglecting us and failing us’,” he said.
He listed five points of what he wants to achieve with this book:
1.The people of Trinidad will finally get an opportunity and hopefully understand the plight of the homeless in this country.
2. People will be able to change the perception of what the reality of homelessness really is.
3. Institutions of higher learning will utilise the book in their classrooms, to not only educate but motivate and to propel students to conduct studies similar to his.
4. The lives of Michael, Ronald, Indian, Foxy, and to those who died did not die in vain so the book is dedicated to them.
5. The PNM government now has a tool to use, to understand homelessness which will assist them in developing effective policies to eradicate vagrancy once and for all.
The Nowayrians: Homelessness in Trinidad and Tobago is available at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Metropolitan and other leading bookstores.