WEDNESDAY, FEB. 9: The homeless are to be chased from Hamilton’s doorways to stop people being scared away from the city.
Retired police officers are being sought to work as city rangers and move on vagrants sleeping rough or hassling people for cash.
The increasing number of homeless people is said to be scaring off visitors and locals.
The Corporation of Hamilton now hopes to hire five people, ideally former cops in their 40s or 50s, to patrol the streets of the city day and night.
It is thought there are 275 homeless people across the island, with 30 to 50 of them in Hamilton.
It is hoped that city rangers can claim back the city from vagrants who are “more brazen and bold” when they beg for cash.
Deputy Mayor Glenn Smith said: “City rangers are needed to move on the homeless who are sprawling themselves across the doorways of our popular stores.
“It’s a growing problem as these people are constantly begging and hassling people.
“Locals are becoming numb to the same individuals out there — we all know their faces. But imagine how it feels for a tourist or a young child to be approached.
“We get complaints all the time. People feel frightened, they are scared as these vagrants are becoming more brazen and bold. They are accosting people in broad daylight.”
Mr. Smith was recently “grabbed hold off” by a vagrant outside a restaurant. He said the man “went for him” when he refused to give him any money.
Corporation members and engineers were accosted twice by vagrants as they walked around Hamilton on Friday afternoon.
City rangers will ask the homeless to move on and will watch to make sure they do not just move round the corner. It is hoped that “if they are told enough times and if the message is consistent, it will sink it”.
Hamilton Mayor Charles Gosling told a Pembroke Parish Council meeting in December that “there are now a magnitude of homeless people”.
He added: “These are people using the streets as their bedrooms and bathrooms. They sleep in doorways and are defecating and urinating wherever they want — behaving like that isn’t acceptable.
“This is a very important issue, it’s our priority. We are happy to resurrect the city ranger scheme to bring a certain amount of safety back to the city.”
The patrols will operate like park rangers and will be able to exercise powers of arrest.
The Corporation is keen to hear from retired police officers because they will be “familiar with the laws of the land and the individuals who cause grief”.
As well as walking the streets, rangers will also visit the city’s parks and car parks, which have become hotspots for anti-social behaviour.
They will also keep an eye on motorists to make sure people are not breaking traffic laws.
The rangers will be easily identifiable in uniforms so tourists can approach them for directions.
The idea of city rangers has been “talked about and tossed around” by the Corporation since 2009. But it is now a priority due to the increase in the city’s vagrant population, which is “visible for all to see”.
Corporation members are also aware police are “spending a lot of time on issues such as the gang violence and shootings”.
Mr. Smith added: “These city rangers are necessary as there is a noticeable lack of a police presence in Hamilton.
“We want to have an added presence on the streets — city rangers will be putting the policing back into policing.
“It won’t be an 8-5 thing, they will work around the clock.
“They will work with the full cooperation of the Corporation of Hamilton and Bermuda Police Service.” Mr. Gosling is in discussion with Deputy Premier Derek Burgess to make the plan a reality.
Government is said to be “fully supportive” of the scheme but it cannot go ahead until it gets approval from the House of Assembly.
A city ranger scheme was set up several years ago but it was short-lived due to confusion about their ability to enforce the law.
Michael Dunkley, UBP public safety senator, “most definitely” supports city rangers and applauded the Corporation for “getting on top” of the scheme again.
He said: “The city needs to be a clean, safe and welcoming place for locals and visitors — no one wants to see vagrants hanging around.
“The high cost of living and recession means that there are more people on the streets.
“There are also the people who have chosen to be homeless.
“At 10:30pm on Sunday night I saw a vagrant lying right in front of a Front Street store — that is totally unacceptable.
“The city rangers will help the city become the place we all expect it to be.”
Bermuda Police Service said their experience of working with city rangers in the past had been “very positive”.
A spokesman added: “The city rangers worked under the direction of the Corporation towards enhancing the City of Hamilton and collaborated with the Bermuda Police Service on a variety of local community issues.
“While the city rangers did not have any police powers, they were still able to address a number of perennial problems to improve the quality of life for city residents and visitors.
“If the initiative is resurrected then the Bermuda Police Service will of course look for new opportunities to work together.”
‘I don’t ask for cash, it’s not right’
Senior Henry McCallan has his knees huddled to his chest as he sits next to the ATM at Hamilton ferry terminal.
It was the driest spot he could find to shelter from the rain at 7:30am on Monday morning.
Mr. McCallan is sitting on a Lindo’s fabric shopping bag containing his prized possessions — two sandwiches he was given the day before, which are for when he is “really very hungry”.
Mr. McCallan has been on the streets for more than 20 years after divorcing his third wife.
He is in his 70s but does not know his exact age.
He used to work for the Government sports department but now “drinking is the only occupation I have left”.
Mr. McCallan said: “I usually sleep somewhere near the port, wherever the wind is not blowing. I like to find a place by myself. A lot of guys like to sleep in groups but they make too much noise.”
Mr. McCallan, who used to live in Devonshire, has 11 grown-up children.
He “cannot handle” the Salvation Army’s homeless hostel because there is “lots of bullying and drugs”.
Instead, he sleeps under a few blankets, which he hides during the day so they do not get stolen.
Mr. McCallan goes to sleep “when everyone else heads home at night” and wakes up “when the streets get busy again”.
He spends his days “sitting around” but does not ask people for money unless he recognises them.
He said: “I don’t think soliciting for cash is right.”
Mr. McCallan, who has a deformed spine that affects the nerves in his foot, said he expects to die on the streets.
He added: “I try to keep myself to myself. I like to be left alone, I don’t hang with the crowd.
“There are a rough lot on the streets — they have attitudes and do drugs but I’m old, I don’t get involved.”
Mr. McCallan has “got used” to life on the streets but still does not like going to the toilet in the bushes.
He would ask the new city rangers: “Where would you like me to go?”
He added: “They can wake me up and ask me to move but I will just move around the corner.
“It’s not as if I have any other options.”
‘Folk think I’m a worthless bum’
Neville Simons is used to people staring at him as they walk past him slumped in a doorway.
To passers-by, the 54-year-old, who has been homeless for 12 years, is “just another bum on the street”.
He said: “I know what people think of me. They think I’m a worthless son-of-a-so-and-so and I just want their money but I wish I wasn’t here, I wish I was working.”
Mr. Simons has arthritis in his legs, arms and shoulders. He takes medication daily and walks with a cane but he “tries not to beg” and “doesn’t like to ask anyone for anything”.
He said he never asks his family members for help because “they have to take care of their own and have bills to pay”.
Mr. Simons added: “It’s not easy being out on the streets, you have to put up with a lot of stuff. People steal from you. I have no money, no bathroom to use, it’s cold and I’m lucky if I can afford a cup of coffee.
‘This is no life for anyone, it’s so hard.”
At 6:30am on Monday morning we found Mr. Simons in the covered porchway of Kay’z Hair Salon on King Street.
He had slept on a flattened cardboard box under several blankets given to him by The Salvation Army.
As the sun rose, he had to “hide away” his blankets and go and get “a quick wash” in a public restroom.
He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers and planned to “sit off” on Front Street for the day because his arthritis prevents him walking very far.
Mr. Simons keeps hold of his backpack at all times. It contains a handful of personal items, including a toothbrush, deodorant, a pair of socks and a change of underwear.
Mr. Simons, who does not have any children, grew up in the Ord Road area of Warwick. He used to work as a stonecutter at the stone quarry and he previously called a “shack” on Serpentine Road his home.
He will now “sleep wherever I can”, trying to choose spots where he can shelter from the wind and rain.
Mr. Simons said: “I don’t want to be doing nothing, I wish I was working.
“I still consider myself a young man but the arthritis got into my legs and now I don’t have anything.”
Mr. Simons chose not to go to the Salvation Army shelter because he did not want to “put up with the characters in there”.
He considers himself “pretty lucky” because he has basic reading and writing skills.
He said many people on the streets “can’t even read or write their own name”.
Mr. Simons accused Government of “only being concerned about big businesses” and asked them to “help their own” instead.
He said the introduction of city rangers “won’t help the situation”.
He added: “Of course we will have to listen to them, they will be like the police.
“If city rangers tell me to move, I will move, but where do they expect me to go?
“If they eventually move me out of Hamilton, I will go to some other parish. I can’t go far and they can’t stop me falling asleep.”