“My view is, and my intention is, if I am going to relocate a squatter, I must be able to upgrade them in some way or the other. Upgrade their life.” – Minister in the Ministry of Communities, Valerie Patterson.
Patterson made that statement back in June 2017. She had revealed that the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) were considering “constructing low cost houses to accommodate squatters” who were to be removed from the government reserves. Close to a week ago however, staffers of the CH&PA descended on the ‘A’ Field, Sophia reserves and demolished close to two-dozen structures. The demolition works were said to be in preparation for community development works under the US$30 million ‘Road Network Upgrade and Expansion Programme.’ Most of those affected have nowhere to go.
A Keno George photograph in Stabroek News showed a family, standing guard on their bridge. In order to save their home from being destroyed, they disassembled the bridge leading to their home. A grandmother, a mother, several young children, including a toddler, would have found themselves homeless had they not taken a stand. I applaud them.
In the aftermath of the hurricanes that ravaged several Caribbean islands, President David Granger was quoted as saying that the government would offer land to persons from hurricane-affected islands. This at face value was a commendable offer. However, one begins to wonder whether Granger’s concern for the poor and the displaced runs thin when it comes to the actual people he was elected to serve.
The CH&PA were quoted as saying that they had advised persons who have never applied for Government Housing Solutions to lodge applications for a plot of land. While that is very good advice, what the CH&PA failed to take into consideration is the failings of the land allocation system within Guyana. Agatha Valentine, whose daughter and grandchildren were photographed on their bridge, stated that it has been over 20 years since her daughter has been trying to acquire a plot of land. For many, acquiring land is not a possibility. Even if they do acquire land, they have no access to building loans.
Caroline Shenaz Hossein in a study conducted in Guyana titled, “The Exclusion of Afro-Guyanese Hucksters in Micro-Banking,” explored the systemic reasons behind the difficulties Afro-Guyanese face in getting home loans through conventional banking and other financial services. In the paper, she argues, “micro-banking managers and staff hold onto historically-rooted prejudices which interfere with the allocation of loans.” Race, she found, was one of the main issues that stymied the progress of many afro-Guyanese from getting building loans. “Issues of race, class and gender bias intertwined in the lending process that deny poor Afro-Guyanese women loans,” she wrote.
No one wants to live in a shantytown. No one wakes up in the morning and goes, ‘Oh, I will go squat in an impoverished community with little or no means for my further ascension and make my life there.’ No one wants to have to defend their home by dismantling their bridges. For many, it was a choice between facing the ire of the CH&PA or sleeping on pavements. In a similar situation, I too would have squatted.
Imagine yourself as a child, returning from school to a destroyed home and a family broken by grief. Imagine the implications this has on the future of your mental, physical and economic health. The children of Stephan Forde did not deserve to have had their homes ripped from them. Then there is Fitzroy Blair who pleaded with CH&PA to give him two more days. He was given more time yes, but the reason for him being there in the first place should not be overlooked. He had to resort to squatting not because he was ‘lazy,’ but because of the economic violence that was meted out against him. Due to his landlord raising his rent, Blair would have had to move, as he could no longer afford to pay.
Poverty is cyclical. The government and bodies such as the CH&PA are implicit in this cycle through their policies and actions. Finance loaners and home renters are involved in perpetuating this poverty. The messages sent to us through these policies, rising rents and demolished houses tell us that you do not care for the disenfranchised. Bureaucracy and the government’s hatred for poor people will be the fall of this nation. The callousness with which they deal with us tells us a lot about the way in which our country will either progress or stagnate. Stop punishing poor people for being poor.