CIG must take homelessness seriously

| 15/09/2015 | 31 Comments
Cayman News Service

Matthew Leslie hands out school supplies to those who cannot afford them

(CNS): A local business man and former George Town candidate in the 2013 general election is calling on government to take homelessness seriously because he believes the numbers are growing and the situation will soon become a major problem for the wider community. Matthew Leslie is now a leading figure when it comes to community action and is doing what he can, with the help of other volunteers, to assist those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile who are falling through the Cayman Islands’ very limited welfare safety net.

Leslie has been spending a considerable amount of time over the last few months looking at the homeless situation on Grand Cayman with his own eyes. He told CNS that he believes the numbers are now significant, with dozens of people sleeping in cars, in doorways, on benches, the beach, in abandoned buildings or hopping from one insecure bed to another.

He is also greatly concerned about the quality and safety of many homes that people are living in across this islands that have no running water or electricity and where a tangle of extension cords carry power supply from one house connected to the grid to dozens of other ramshackle properties, presenting a massive fire hazard.

With mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as poverty fueling the social deprivation, Leslie said government could no longer hide this problem, as the inequities in Cayman are becoming increasingly apparent.

“We know that there are issues regarding mental health patients which are not being properly managed and there are those who find themselves in dire circumstances as a result of substance abuse, but I believe, as a result of what I have seen, that Cayman has a real homeless problem, as a direct result of poverty and unemployment, that the authorities cannot afford to ignore,” he said.

Government, however, has no figures relating to homelessness in the Cayman Islands nor does it have any policy position on addressing the problem, not only for those people sleeping rough but those in seriously inadequate and dangerous homes, especially families with children. Officials from the community affairs ministry told CNS in February that in 2014 it helped just 12 families via the Needs Assessment Unit as a direct result of homelessness.

Leslie is planning to set up a meeting with the community affairs minister and the chief officer because, he said, they have reached out to him to discuss what he has been seeing recently.

“I truly think this is a great step in the right direction because it means that they are listening and seeing what’s happening,” he said, adding that if those in power are willing to listen, he was going to take advantage of it.

“One of the things we need is more compassion for these people,” he said, as he pointed to the failure of the Needs Assessment Unit, where the people the unit is meant to help are queuing up to try and get seen from 4am in the morning and still being turned away.

For many years the authorities, some parts of the private sector and those who enjoy a comfortable life in the Cayman Islands have been criticized for denying the mounting poverty. Regardless of the denial, the poverty is real, but what government does not have is empirical evidence and accurate data. Poverty is being fueled by a number of problems, including a serious decline in wages, rising unemployment among locals, which many believe is not being properly counted by government, and the rising cost of living, leaving more and more people living in poverty in an emerging underclass.

Leslie believes several dozen individuals and even some families are now living on the street but warned that many, many more families are in danger of losing their homes because they are unable to meet mortgage payments or even rent.

One of the few unsuccessful candidates in the 2013 election who has remained actively engaged in the community, Leslie’s hands-on approach and demonstrated ability to get things done, not least in two high-profile cases where families lost their homes in fires, is bound to raise his political profile 2017. But Leslie’s commitment goes beyond his desire to get elected and is rooted in what he says is the real “Caymankind” – the slogan adopted by the Department of Tourism.

“I do a lot of work in the community but I also have a group of what I call angels who support what I do,” he said, citing the donors and volunteers who are often part of the efforts he is coordinating.

However, Leslie also spends much his own money giving out food vouchers and school supplies to families that he knows are in trouble. However, with no formal welfare system, many people in Cayman survive only because of the kindness of others.

“I am seeking a way to formalise a poverty charity or NGO so that we can start to collect donations and create a formal way for everyone to contribute to those in need,” he said as he pointed to what he believes are now hundreds of families living on the edge. “Today we are going to deliver school shoes to a number of families as they simply can’t afford to buy their kids new ones for the start of the year,” he told CNS, when we caught up with him between visits to people in need last week.

Politicians are now backing away from the traditional handouts of cash to their constituents because of the political ramifications in relation to the anti-corruption law and the much-anticipated standards in public life bill. Leslie noted that a formalised charity to support families in need would allow politicians, civil servants and all members of the community a way to donate without ramifications.

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Comments (31)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    People like Matthew Leslie is what this island needs to run this Gov’t. We are wasting so much time waiting for projects to start. Which would help people with job creation or go back to a job they were on . We also need to lower the cost of living with utilities and interest rates at banks. The WORLD is a lot lower then what banks are offering here. It is part of the problem . What about Medical insurance? I was quoted $800 CI for a premium per month . But I am obese and will not get any insurance paid towards anything that transpire from being so. So nothing to do with heart, diabetes,blood pressure. So very prejudice to people like me . Plus age also has to do with it. If I have to pay such high cost of living I am not going to retire. I will work till I die. Therefore blocking the way of the youth to move forward to get that opportunity.
    What about House insurance? 3 times the amount for what? We get a hurricane every 75 years or more. Sure one could blow unexpected but they will pay out and recover their loss. Like they have done already. Come on people you all are going to cost the social issues for the future cut your high profit margins. This country is not only for the rich.

  2. Rob says:

    Matthew’s way? Walk the ground, meet the people, listen to and understand their concerns, find a solution, implement the solution.

    Government’s way? Form a 20 person ‘action committee,’ pay a Big 4 firm north of $200,000 to research and produce a report that will take many months, reject 80% of the report’s recommendations, linger at square one until 5 months before election time to implement 10% of what the report said.

    Matthew, I suggest you spearhead the formation of an effective nongovernmental organization and lead it. That way you and the people that organization will assist will be better off. If you run for office and get elected, your efforts will be slowed by the inefficient procedural government ways.

    I respect you for what you’re doing and have done thus far. All the best.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It becomes more and more evident that many people in Cayman struggle and we cannot assume that it is always due to their own doing. Some people truly do experience hardships beyond their control and we must remember that misfortune and illness or accidents can happen to any of us any given day.

    Unfortunately too many people have abused various charities for too long, and if it is not the recipients who are abusing them at the expense of others, it may be the folks sitting on charity boards as today’s headline shows.

    BUT, please do not make this discourage you from lending a helping hand. Our family helps where we can, be it by donating items to the NCVO, donating clothes to families we KNOW are in need, buying someone a meal if they approach us in the parking lot etc. We no longer hand out cash and we no longer donate cash to any charities for the reasons set out above.

    I commend Mr Matthew’s approach as he actually makes an effort to determine someone’s situation and provides supplies. I really wish that more charities and social organization would take the time to learn about someone’s situation to determine who is actually deserving and who is just looking for a handout.

  4. Pablo Cruise says:

    Until the crazy lady poops or Kirky shows up by our dear governors house or gets in a fight with the governor’s Cat nothing will be done. Yes $500,000 to make the UK look good and to pay certain political interest who arrive here to give logistical help before and during our elections to certain parties under the supervision of the FCO. Caymanians homeless and being foreclosed don’t mean Nuttin to these sucka’s

    • Anonymous says:

      Pablo, Cayman has its own government who should look after the issues. The Governor is for foreign policy, justice and defense. So go yell at the MLA door.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am someone that Mister Leslie helped recently. He did not even know me and brought be a hot meal and some Foster Food Fair gift cards. He sat down and asked about my life and told me to stay positive because things would get better for me and my wife. Was the first time I ever believed someone. He made me believe in good people again and even though I am still job hunting i got faith restored that thing will work out. My home is paid off and the bills are all we have to worry and food. He at least made this month a little easier. Thank you Mister Leslie.

    • Anonymous says:

      You don’t have money to buy food BUT you have access to a computer, laptop or IPad to post on CNS? Come on now let’s get real!

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s called a prepaid phone and wifi from the neighbors. Thank you very much.

      • Anon says:

        Public library has free WiFi and computers available. I made good use of it when I was going through hard times.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think your comment is not only judgmental and speculative but in very poor taste. I mean come on now lets get real this person could just as easily been using a smartphone (or do you deem him too poor to be able to have one of those to make emergency calls too?), or he could just as easily be using a friends computer, an internet cafe computer, or a computer for public use elsewhere.

        Your totally untoward comment totally sickened me.


  6. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always been confused how people can just ignore and dismiss a “Kirky” for a decade or more even as he stands in the middle of a major roadway, holding a bottle, and visibly staggering in busy nighttime traffic…and the various “Crazy Ladies” pooping on the sidewalk. These people need to be brought somewhere safe where they can get help and avoid injury. Make no mistake, these people DO need help. Kudos to Matt for pointing out long-standing deficiencies in being a better kind of neighbor.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you Mr Matthew

    • Anonymous says:

      The greatest problem with the majority of those people who are expecting an handout, is drugs. Some of them cannot be helped by giving them money, they are drug addicts and that has ruined their lives. Others, are in a different category. They have lost their jobs, or are sick and unable to help themselves, these are the people who need help.

      Take the drug addicts off the streets and stop them from harassing people on the streets and at the supermarkets. They are not looking for jobs.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Alden and the Ivory Tower crew do not care about Caymanians plain and simple. $500,000 they gave away and didn’t bat an eye about “anti-corruption”. How many of our own school children who’s parents houses have been repossessed by the banks , could they have helped? What about Meals on Wheels and the kids that cant afford lunch.

    And you wonder why the children not doing good in school!? How unna expect them to pay attention in class when they have just been kicked out of their house?

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think a NGO for charitable local needs contributions is a great idea. All people could contribute, be they politicians, residents (Caymanians and expatriates) visitors, and the churches too. That would take some of the burden off the Govt. Social Services and Needs Assessment Unit. Just be careful to do full due diligence on those who are appointed to receive and distribute funds and goods. We wouldn’t want this NGO to end up with a situation like the Pines experienced!
    Matthew Leslie is a proven decent man, honest, compassionate. And his home is right here, not in another country! God bless you, Matthew, and open the right doors for you with the proposed NGO.

  9. Marie Vernon says:

    Big up to my nephew, Matthew Leslie. May God continue to bless him and all the other people that are helping.

  10. Good job Matthew. Keep it up.

    • Anonymous says:

      Good job to you too George. I heard you and Matthew on the radio. Proud of both of you!! 2017??

      • Anonymous says:

        This is exactly what is all about. 2017 so let the marketing for votes start now.

        • Anonymous says:

          Whatever his agenda is at least he is doing something unlike some of you trolls only good for sitting and writing foolishness on this website. Why don’t you go ask him if you can help with something instead of sitting here playing political twister already.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Seen him in action and very proud to see him helping. He just helped a family I know with supplies and food. Gotta give credit where credit is due. Hope others take his example and start helping.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This man seems to do more for the people of this Country than the Social Services Department and Ministry for Employment than both combined. That is scary and begs the question as to what exactly these people are doing with their time everyday whilst we pay their salaries?

  13. Anonymous says:

    It is time the problem is exposed. For too long these people are treated oh too well at christmas and election time. What about during the off peak periods? Thank you Matthew for exposing it for love of country.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Oh wow I never knew all if this happened in Cayman. Is this really the case? Kudos to you Mr. Leslie

  15. Anonymous says:

    Big man, bigger heart. Keep it up Matt.

    • Anonymous says:

      Whoever put the thumbs down I hope you all go hungry or homeless one day and wish someone would give a damn.

  16. MONSTER says:

    About time….yah?


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