Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Frankie Campbell visited Grand Bahama recently to get a first-hand look at the challenges facing Social Services Grand Bahama, post Hurricane Dorian. Flying into Freeport on Monday, Minister Campbell spent most of the morning at the Social Services Department in the Sun Plaza, where he was given an extensive tour of the facilities, as well as got an up-close view of the staff in action with the various challenges facing the department. “Having heard the frustrations, the team and I got together and we revised some of our methodology and some of our procedures to see how best we can reduce the frustration and facilitate our clients,” Minister Campbell told the media on Monday afternoon.
“Among some of the things we have done is to remove some of the bureaucracy that was involved in the whole issue of rental assistance. Prior to this, we would have been concerned that landlords have vendor ID, tax compliance certificate and business licenses. “We have removed those effective this coming Friday. So that persons who are operating for less than a $100,000 will not have to go through that bureaucracy, and that then would facilitate our being able to give the rental assistance in a more speedy fashion.” Minister Campbell pointed out that another step the Department of Social Services has taken is to separate persons seeking assistance at the Department. Those seeking assistance relative to hurricane relief will see certain officers, while those seeking regular social services assistance will see a different set of officers.
He noted that hurricane relief would be but a formality, once the qualification has been established. There is the possibility of having two Social Services sites in Grand Bahama, to better serve members of the community: Minister Campbell said there are plans to open a sub-office in the eastern portion of the island, which would further reduce the number of people having to go to the Freeport location. The Minister said that the site for the eastern portion of the island has not been selected as yet, but added that a few places and buildings have been inspected and are being considered. “We appreciate that there are customers who have to stand around when they come to this office, because there is no furniture, but even the staff is having its share of challenges with furniture,” said Minister Campbell.
“We have undertaken to get some temporary furniture – folding chairs and folding tables – so that there would be chairs for people to sit in. We have also made the decision to get a tent so if there is an overflow on the inside, people will be able to sit comfortably on the outside and wait until their names are called. “The one main thing that is going to be different – we’ve heard the complaint that people have to cue up early in the mornings to find that only the first 20 persons will be served – that will change. Persons will be served from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.”
The Social Services Minister noted that, as was done with the new passport applications, his Department is looking into the possibility of having Social Services application forms uploaded online so that individuals can fill out the forms online, wait to be called, and come to the Social Services Department when it is time to have those online applications processed.
Minister Campbell pointed out that no one really could have prepared for the kind of storm Dorian turned out to be, nor could anyone possibly have prepared for the kind of damage Dorian inflicted on Abaco and Grand Bahama. “There was no handbook for us to follow to deal with the aftermath of Dorian,” said Minister Campbell. “This is a fluid situation even at this point. So we continue to entertain suggestions and recommendations on how best we can improve on what we’re doing. “This is our pain, as much as it is the pain of those people who are seeking assistance. Team members here in Grand Bahama are also victims of the hurricane. So they know of the frustration because they too are suffering those same frustrations. “But we are hoping that these measures and those to come will help to reduce the frustration on both sides – for the clients and for our staff.”