Vagrancy - A Growing Social Problem in Dominica
Young Vagrant Searching a Drain in Roseau
Definition of Vagrancy
A vagrant can be defined as a homeless person without a regular income who roams the streets begging. Historically vagrancy has been linked to poverty, misfortune or idleness. Today the causes are more varied and drug use has become a very significant contributor to this phenomenon.
The Parro - a Vagrant in Dominica
Vagrancy is increasingly becoming a serious problem in my country particularly in the urban areas. We have a peculiar type of vagrant which is referred to locally as “parros”. They are persons who became vagrants as a result of drug abuse. These parros are mainly found at various spots around the capital city, Roseau and the main town, Portsmouth where expectedly, there are better opportunities for soliciting. There are a few women parros, but the majority of parros are men, most of who appear to be able bodied and intelligent. Many of them are high school drop outs who could have had a promising future. In fact, some parros come from well-to-do and respectable families.
Drug Abuse and Vagrancy
What, one may ask would push an intelligent and able bodied young person into drug use to the extent that he/she would end up begging on the streets? It is a fact that many youth of high school age try drugs at some point in their school career be it for curiosity, excitement, fashion or simply to fit in with their peers. Many are able to make a safe and timely exit while the unfortunate get hooked and end up on the streets. As a former teacher, I can attest that some of the parros who approach me for a dollar were once bright students who could have done well and emerged as productive, progressive citizens if they had not succumbed to the attraction of drugs and fallen into addiction. In developing countries like mine where many parents are unable to afford the cost of rehabilitation overseas, there is not much hope of recovery for these youths once they reach that point. This is the sad, stark reality. Sadly, not only young persons, but also mature individuals surrender to this deadly attraction. Consequently, one sees individuals who were once upright and productive citizens with family commitments now drug addicts, roaming the streets begging.
The Impact of Vagrancy on Society
Vagrancy is a terrible life situation for the individual who has to sleep on sidewalks and beg for a daily meal. It is humiliating to their families and embarrassing to their friends. However, worse is the negative impact which their presence has on society. Certainly, there are persons who treat them with compassion and humanitarian groups which look after their rights and protection. However, for the majority, parros are a threat, an inconvenience or an annoyance.
To the average man on the street who wishes to go about his business without hindrance, it is definitely a nuisance to be accosted at every turn by seemingly healthy and able persons asking for a dollar. Sometimes, you may pity them and wish to help, but there are times when you ask yourself why you should work to feed someone who is apparently making no effort to find some form of employment at least to meet his own basic needs. You also wonder whether that dollar of which you deprive yourself actually goes toward a meal or toward purchasing drugs.
To home owners parros are a decided threat for their practice is to scout around for homes which are unoccupied, invade these places and carry away all items which appear to be sellable and eventually use there for sleeping at night. This has made it necessary for people with unoccupied property to be very vigilant where the parros are concerned. Even when going away on vacation, one must take measures to have someone check one's property regularly to avoid an unpleasant surprise on one’s return home.
Parros are decidedly, an annoyance to business owners for it is at the entrance to business places that they station themselves to solicit money from clients or customers as they go in and out. This can be quite problematic since their presence could serve as a deterrent to clients and therefore a threat to the business place.
The tourism sector could likewise, be extremely adversely affected by the presence and actions of these people all over the city. When the cruise ship passengers disembark for their land tours they want a pleasurable experience. No visitor wants to be accosted or even harassed by an unpleasant smelling vagrant. They give negative reviews on destinations which do not allow them to enjoy their cruise experience causing cancellations and withdrawals by cruise lines. The tourism department is therefore extremely stern on this matter because as a destination the country cannot afford to get a low rating because visitors are being turned off by vagrants. The Tourism Minister has called for collaboration form all stakeholders to address this troubling situation.
The Tourism Minister Says that Vagrancy Cannot be Handled by the Government Alone
A Multi Sectorial Approach to the Vagrancy Problem
Recently, a multi sectorial approach has been determined to be the best method for dealing with the problem. Therefore, the Ministries of Tourism, Health, Social Services and National Security are partnering in an effort to find a solution which would be humanitarian hence, looking after the interests and wellbeing of the vagrants while at the same time effectively eradicating the annoyance which they cause to others and the threat to the business and the tourism sectors. A call has been issued for all to play their part in solving the problem since the Government could not realistically be expected to do it alone.
The root of the vagrancy problem is of course, drugs and to totally eradicate the problem it would be necessary to aim at the root, but how achievable is this? The drug problem is massive and far more difficult than its product, vagrancy. However, a start must be made . Therefore to begin with the vagrancy problem might be worthwhile even if only the first step in the process.
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