Minister Wilchcombe outlines government’s plans to address poverty

Source: Bahamas Information Services

NASSAU, The Bahamas – Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Obadiah H. Wilchcombe, said the Davis
Administration will move swiftly to reduce the hurt and suffering in-country by declaring war on poverty. The Department of Social Services and the Urban Renewal Commission will play key roles in that effort.

“Our job is to reduce the suffering and the hurt in our country by declaring war on poverty,” Minister Wilchcombe said Wednesday. “We are serious about that. I don’t like to see people hurting; that bothers me tremendously and so actions speak louder than words.

“The bottom line here is that we have to change some things and we have to do it quickly. We don’t have three months to play with this. We have to start changing things within one month.”

Minister Wilchcombe’s comments came following a tour of the Department of Social Services’ Main Offices located on Baillou Hill Road. The Social Services Minister was accompanied by Minister of State for Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Lisa Rahming. The pair began the morning with a visit to the Urban Renewal Commission, Centreville, that was followed by a tour of the Fox Hill Community Support Services Centre, Department of Social Services, and then the DOSS Head Offices.

Minister Wilchcombe said that in addition to the war on poverty, the Administration’s thrust – through the Ministry and its various Departments — will also focus on addressing areas such as homelessness, housing, food security, and improving the urban environment by making the Urban Renewal Programme “more expansive.”

“If you take a look globally at what Urban Renewal has done; If you take a
look at New York, it transformed Harlem; Atlanta, Atlanta City; Houston, downtown Houston, Shanghai, all urban renewal — that’s what urban renewal is supposed to do and when you look at what is wrong with the inner city, what is wrong with our urban areas, then we have some work to do.

Minister Wilchcombe said that work includes establishing more green spaces, removing buildings that ought to have been removed, and getting rid of all derelict vehicles. “We are going to make the areas much cleaner, make the environment better.”

The Social Services Minister said the plan also calls for the introduction of additional programmes targeting more young people.

“Yes, we have the bands, but I want to see young children going to dance lessons after school, I want to see them going to sporting events, I want to see young children participating in arts and culture, I want to see them being more occupied. Let’s keep their minds occupied so that they can move away from negativity. My colleague (State Minister Rahming) is going to head that particular aspect of the ministry.”

Minister Wilchcombe said the visit to the Fox Hill Community Support Centre allowed officials to get a “first-hand view” of the process at the community support centres. He said he came away “deeply concerned.”

“One of the things I am deeply concerned about is to see the Bahamian people, mainly the elderly, sitting on the outside waiting for services. That is not appropriate. That is unacceptable as far as I am concerned, and I wanted to know why because we introduced the credit card system and that system had much success. We want to know why it is taking so long now for the needy to get the credit card on the one hand, and on the other hand, why it has been stopped in some areas.

“I wanted to see the lines, it is disheartening, and it brings tears to your eyes just to see some of these people who are simply, for the most part, looking for a meal. People believe that we are the ones who are supposed to be providing a service. They are not here looking for a favour. There is a commitment by the state. We have to take better care of our people and that’s what I wanted to see for myself.”

Minister Wilchcombe said he has mandated social services officials to begin compiling statistics on the level of homelessness and poverty in-country as a part of the process towards addressing both matters.

“We don’t have any stats and that’s disturbing. We can’t tell you the level of poverty in the country and there is something wrong with that picture and so I have asked for us to begin to find out the stats, to determine exactly the reality because how do you make programmes if you have no information? Information is power, information gives you what is required to make the decisions that must be made. We don’t have that information, but in spite of that, you have the evidence that we do have problems. And because of that we must move with haste,” Minister Wilchcombe added.