PHILIPSBURG – “I give clothes and food to the elderly man who lives here”, community police officer Arcella Leonard gestures towards a torn-down home. Within the demolished structure one can see a small room, no larger than 6 m2, which is fashioned from plywood, zinc and a bed sheet.
Leonard is one of the eight community officers on the St. Maarten police force. Her assigned districts are Dutch Quarter and Belvedere. Both districts include some middle-class housing, mostly low-income housing and a few shack-areas.
Since the passing of hurricane Irma, Leonard makes daily rounds through the two neighborhoods. They are amongst six other similar neighborhoods on St. Maarten that were greatly affected by the hurricane. Leonard: “The areas that are having a harder time clearing debris and rebuilding are our low-income areas.”
Scanning the hillsides of the area, it can be hard to discern roads in between the houses. Leonard explains that one of the reasons some of the areas weren’t cleared by initial government-funded efforts was due to the infrastructure. Leonard: “There isn’t always an easy way up, especially with a large truck.”
Now, four months later, it is up to residents to clear any debris. However, many cannot afford to pay a driver and truck to clear the wood, zinc, trash and other wreckage from their property.
As Leonard makes her rounds, residents share the same concerns with her on a daily basis: having enough money for food and figuring out a way to pay for a new roof. “Persons here were already struggling to meet ends meet before Irma,” she explains.
Christina Hodge, who helps to run the community center in Dutch Quarter shares similar sentiments: “I see people sitting in their damaged homes with a blank look. They don’t know what their next step is.”
Her concerns deepen when asked about the coming months. Although many international and national organizations are helping through donations and food vouchers donations, she knows this will not last forever. “Let’s hope that the rebuilding fund from Holland is used in a proper manner to help those that need it most, instead of it going to a select few!” she expresses fervently.
Day by day
Isaac Gomez is one of the residents in Dutch Quarter that are dealing with the issues Leonard and Hodge describe. His home, in which he lives with his girlfriend and young son “is still leaking”. He picks up construction jobs where her can. His girlfriend cannot find work. They have no savings to fix their home. “You just have to live day by day”, Gomez says with a shrug.