Freeze frame: In a still from Poverty in Paradise, a young boy shows a framed picture of his uncle. He tells the camera that "he was hit by the bullet and the gun". *Photo supplied
Freeze frame: In a still from Poverty in Paradise, a young boy shows a framed picture of his uncle. He tells the camera that "he was hit by the bullet and the gun". *Photo supplied
A homeless single mom has told how she lived in a cave while seven months pregnant because she could not afford to pay rent.

This is among a string of shocking first-hand accounts of poverty in Bermuda recorded for a new documentary — shared exclusively with the Bermuda Sun.

One mother tells how she lived with her family in a tent on Warwick Long Bay, while another shows the filmmakers the home of her family of five — a boxy single room at the Gulfstream emergency shelter in St David’s. Her three children share one bed.

In another striking scene, a young boy holds a framed picture of his uncle and tells the camera: “He was hit by the gun and the bullet. He got shot by those two things.”

The Poverty in Paradise documentary — directed by Lucinda Spurling and produced by advocacy group the Coalition for the Protection of Children — draws links between the trials of struggling moms living on low or no wages and the gang violence engulfing Bermuda.

It traces the roots of the island’s widening wealth gap back to the explosion of international business in the early 1990s and an influx of low-cost third world workers filling unskilled jobs.

The film features stories from mothers who fear they are being forced to make an impossible choice between working round the clock or raising their children.

The 16 women interviewed in the film are not named. But the majority show their faces on camera to tell their stories.

One says: “We look around and watch rent go higher, electricity and water go higher, everything you need, laundry, go higher. Everything is rising above us except our wages.”

Most of those interviewed have been homeless at some time in the past few years.

“I had to find places to sleep — caves, public bathrooms, beaches — until I was seven months pregnant,” one tearful woman tells the camera.

Several homeless families end up in the Gulfstream emergency housing shelter in St David’s, where they pay $530 per month and live in small single rooms with access to a kitchen shared with 30 other families.

Ghetto

The shelter was designed as a temporary measure. But several women complain it has become a permanent ghetto where they are looked down on “like crabs in a bucket”.

Security guards and surveillance cameras monitor the facility and strict rules are enforced, they say.

One woman says the shelter’s ‘no babysitting’ policy cost her her job.

She tells the camera: “I had to get one of my neighbours to collect my child in the afternoons and put them on a bus in the mornings.

“She was unable to continue doing it. I had to stay home with my children and I lost my job.”

Another woman says: “All we want is to get out and make our rent money but we can’t babysit each other’s children to do that.”

The movie — which also includes interviews with MP Dale Butler, analyst Cordell Riley and various Coalition workers — points to progress when it comes to affordable housing for the middle class thanks to the Loughlands, Harbour Village and Perimeter Lane developments.

But it argues the “insurmountable” problem of sky-high rents traps some families in a life of poverty.

Some of the women get support from the Department of Financial Assistance. But they say it is not nearly enough to cover their bills, leaving them with stark choices.

Electricity or daycare? Groceries or rent? Health insurance or transport?

The debts rack up and some of the women have ended up in jail or lost custody of their children because of unpaid bills.

They say they are victimized by a system that is ineffective in collecting the debts they are owed by their children’s fathers.

One says: “My oldest, the father owes $78,000. The father of the youngest three owes $30,000 and I’m threatened to go to jail for $450? It’s not right.”

Drastic cuts to the welfare budget and grants for aid agencies threaten to make the problem worse.

Financial Assistance has seen demand balloon. Statistics quoted in the movie suggest the number of people receiving aid rose from 450 in 2004 to 1,600 in 2010.

The budget was cut by $1 million this year.

Agencies such as Focus drug counselling, the Sunshine League Children’s Home and Teen Services have seen their funds halved as part of cost-cutting measures in the 2011 Budget. Sheelagh Cooper, of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, which produced the film, warned the cuts would end up costing Bermuda more in the form of escalating police and prison costs.

She believes the gang violence erupting across the island is directly linked to the widening wealth gap.

She said: “What we are witnessing is a perfect storm of conditions that have bred a violent, drug-involved, angry young underclass.

Exhausted

“These are young people who were born in the early to mid-1990s. These were the first cohort to experience the huge gap between the cost of living and the wages at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

“These children were raised by mothers who worked multiple jobs to pay the rent. They were exhaus-ted, depleted, anxious and probably didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to really nurture and spend time with their children.”

Other moms face the same circumstances now.

Forced to work two jobs to afford rent, their children are effectively left to raise themselves — or seek comfort and solidarity on the street corner.

One woman says she has seen young men grow up to be drug dealers in an effort to help their mothers. She says: “I’ve stayed in every area you would consider gang areas — Middle Town, 42nd Street, I grew up on Roberts Avenue. I’ve lived on Cedar Avenue, Somerset, Rangers… areas where crime is a huge factor.

“You’ve got a boy who grew up in a household with a mom who he saw struggle, who was tired, emotional and drained.

“He wanted to be the man of the household. He didn’t have a father and growing up he sees guys selling drugs. He sees it is easy and money in his mom’s pocket. It becomes a lifestyle.

“Telling someone they have to work for $400 a week, eight hours a day when they can make $400 in two hours… most people are going to be like, ‘I’m not doing that, that $400 is not going to take care of my mom or my child’s mom’.”

At the root of the problem is the lack of reasonably paid jobs for low-skilled workers in a society where prices are tailored to a wealthy population.

Ms Cooper said: “Unless wages reflect the cost of living, Bermudians will not be able to afford to take the jobs if they have a family to house and feed.”