Govt tears down houses in Sophia squatting area

Some seven families are now homeless and several others contemplating their next move as the Central Housing and Planning Authority’s (CH&PA) Anti-Squatting Task Force commenced operations in Sophia on Thursday morning.
The Task Force members were accompanied by demolition workers, representatives from the Guyana Water Inc (GWI) and the Guyana Power and Light (GPL), as well as ranks of the Guyana Police Force. The Task Force saw to the demolition of several homes and businesses that were on Government reserve lands in A Field Sophia, Greater Georgetown.

This family formed a human barricade to prevent the Task Force from gaining access to their home

The exercise commenced sometime around 08:00h and when Guyana Times arrived on the scene, several homes and businesses were already torn down.
One woman’s snackette located on Dennis Street at the head of A Field, was flattened. She said the move was an “unreasonable” and “devastating” one, since she is a single mother with six children to provide for and her only source of income was snatched away from her.

An emotional Fitzroy Blair showing a document that was given to him during Thursday’s exercise to relocate by Monday

The CH&PA said it had issued notices to persons squatting in the community, informing them that they needed to remove their structures from the Government reserve. However, many of the persons claimed that they were not given such notices. In fact, many of them were not around when their homes were being demolished.
A young man related to this newspaper that he was at work when he received a call from a neighbour informing him that his house was being demolished. “When I reach, everything was flat,” he said, adding he is not aware that any notice was given to his parents to relocate.
Meanwhile, his neighbour, Robert Chesney, indicated to Guyana Times that he moved into his house about two years ago – before the ‘No Squatting’ sign was erected by Government – and had gone into the Ministry to get regularisation papers.

A dazed Robert Chesney, contemplating his next move

“When I come out, the people from the area tell me that people from Housing (Ministry) break it. I had a cellphone in the house and it missing so I go down at the back to them. When I tell the man I get a paper from Housing, he said the people from Housing stupidy, that they ain’t supposed to give me any paper,” he said.
A frustrated Chesney, who works at the Sophia Exhibition Centre, went on to cry out that “I aint get nowhere else to go, where I gon go… I want to ask David Granger what’s the next move.”
Nevertheless, as the Task Force-led team moved along A Field to carry out their exercise, they were met with high hostility by residents who became aware of what was transpiring and piled onto the roadway.
Many of them condemned the tactic used by the Task Force in their bid to regularise housing in the community, while others opined that despite sympathising with those displaced, it was a move that needed to be done and had to start somewhere.
At one house, 56-year-old Fitzroy Blair had a confrontation with the team as he stood up to demolishers and ranks of the Police Force. After several minutes of standoff, the demolition workers began tearing down the back of Blair’s home, which he shared with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
However, this was quickly halted as the man managed to acquire some additional time to relocate. Blair further stated that he had applied for land over two years now but has not heard from the Ministry since.
It was explained to this publication by Task Force Member, Clayton Hinds, who is also Chairman of the Liliendaal Neighbourhood Democratic Council, that there are three categories of squatters and Thursday’s exercise targeted a specific group.
“Since the Government came into power, there has been an increase in squatting structures on the reserves. So those new structures, some of them have been given notices and those are the ones they are removing,” he noted.
According to Hinds, other squatters will also be expecting to receive similar notices for their relocation. This is being done even as CH&PA continues to work with those squatters who have already gone into to Ministry to get regularised housing.
Nevertheless, as the team moved further along A Field, they were met with increased hostility by squatters on the reserve. In fact, at one house, the family removed planks from the bridge, preventing the Task Force and their accompanying members from access to the house.
Moreover, they formed a human barricade on the remaining half of the bridge, lining up several toddlers and a pregnant woman. Having confronted this, the team ended their efforts in A Field and moved onto B Field Sophia. However, there, they were met with more heightened hostility by residents and were forced to abandon plans to continue their anti-squatting exercise.